Sunbaked cedar and pine
Dappled sunlight through the trees
A cool breeze whispers
Delicate unfurling fronds
The forest sings to the sky
My heart comes alive
Shinrin meaning forest in Japanese, and yoku referring in this instance to bathing, showering or basking in. To bask in the beauty of the forest, or using my favorite catchword, to marvel.
This is not about exercise but rather a meandering through the woods without a specific objective. The aim is to open yourself up to nature and to connect with nature via all of your senses. “Shinrin Yoku is like a bridge,” writes Dr. Qing Li. “…By opening our senses it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.” The rules (for lack of a better word): walk slow and let your body be your guide. There is no need for technology. Take your time. Breathe. It’s not about reaching a goal or a destination, it’s about enjoying the journey, feeling every single facet of the experience – the sights, sounds, tastes and the fragrance of the forest. To completely surrender to the moment and to your surroundings. To savor.
Although nature has always been an integral part of Japanese culture, Shinrin Yoku was coined in the 1980s when the Forest Agency of the Japanese Government established a program to encourage the public to explore the natural wonders outside their densely populated urban cities. It was a call to bathe the mind, body and soul in the beauty of nature found in the forest networks of Japan. In addition to appreciating nature, it was also a cry to promote the health benefits of being in the forest.
It was only in the 90s, where science was able to back up the benefits of Shnirin Yoku that the Forest Agency had initially advertised. Studies conducted by Dr. Yoshifumi Miyazaki of Chiba University in the forests of Yakushima found that physical activity (40 minutes of walking) in the forest versus 40 minutes of physical activity conducted in a laboratory improved mood and feelings of vigor. You may think, “Duh! That’s a no brainer”. However, what is interesting is that he was also able to measure lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in individuals after being in a forest compared with those who took laboratory walks. This was the first clue that offered scientists a measurable difference between walking in a forest versus another environment.
After this initial study, more research was conducted by Chiba University as well as other groups in Kyoto to evaluate physiological markers while subjects spent time in a forest. These studies confirmed that being in a forest setting can reduce symptoms of stress, depression and aggression by lowering cortisol levels and blood pressure. In addition, forest bathing was found to improve sleep and increase energy.
And just to tempt you even more into giving this a try, a study conducted by Dr. Qing Li from the Nippon Medical School found that forest bathing, whether it was for a couple of hours or over three days had a huge long-lasting impact on the health of his subjects. It is well known that any stress can compromise the immune system, especially the cells that are on the frontlines. Therefore, since forest bathing was proven to lower cortisol levels, should it not have an impact on the immune system as well? Li and his team began to explore this. They were able to measure spikes in the number of Natural Killer (NK) cells (the frontline cells that help fight disease), as well as, “increases in the functional activity of these antiviral cells, and increases in the amount of intracellular anticancer proteins…” Is this not fascinating? You can read the study here.
For me, although I enjoy reading the research, I don’t need a scientific panel to tell me that getting out there is beneficial for my health or for my soul in order to go.
One of our favourite places to explore (long before we knew anything about ‘forest bathing’) are the forests near Baarn in the Netherlands. They are spectacular. Less dense then the Canadian forests which I know and love, but equally beautiful. Full of oak, cedar, birch and pine, carpets of moss that make you bounce as you walk and landscapes filled with beautiful ferns that seem to go on forever. Dirk tells me that many of these forests began as man-made forests as the original forests had been cut down hundreds of years before. Although, originally man-made, nature soon takes over and you have a plethora of incredible plant varieties, trees, fungi, animals, birds, flowers—so much to captivate the heart and senses.
Two things captivate me the most: Firstly, FERNS. Give me #alltheferns. I can’t tell you what it is about them that enchants me so. Is it the repeated patterns? The lush greens? How their fronds start secretly beneath the surface of the ground and over time unfurl into intricate works of art? I could spend hours (and do) studying them. The second is the fragrance of the forest, especially after it has been basking in the sun for a few hours. How can I even describe it? It’s intoxicating in the best way. I can smell the glow of the earth, the freshness of the green, the coolness of the breeze, the warmth of the oils from the baked pine needles and with just a hint of dampness from the soil beneath. (As a side note, I’ve started using essential oils in the last year and I am determined to recreate the fragrance and wear it as a perfume so I can take the forest with me wherever I go.)
And for my soul… being in that marvelous and peaceful place, feeling the moss beneath my feet, the texture of the bark beneath my fingertips, the warmth of the sun on my skin, the flutter of a finch about to land on a nearby branch, the crunch of the pine and leaves, and savoring the aroma of that sacred sanctuary…there is no need for any scientific data to convince me that forest bathing is good for every aspect of our beings.
That’s why I am so passionate about bringing nature indoors. We cannot always escape to the forest to find the solace or comfort that we need, but we can create our own sacred space (read more HERE) full of what gives our soul life and peace in our own home, or in a corner of our office, or right in our living room. Printed on the most beautiful torchon paper and with archival inks, our fine art prints may not give you the fragrance of the forest, but they can remind you of all the peace, tranquility and life you felt there. My friend describes our work best, “…like windows into another world.”
I encourage you, to get out there and explore the beautiful natural world around you…and even try a little Shinrin Yoku for yourself. It may take time and practice for you to quiet yourself down but it is well worth the effort and your mind and soul will thank you for it. You can view our Shinrin Yoku guide down below:
Make sure to check out our web shop for beautiful fine art botanical prints to adorn any space you call your own. Let nature in with us!
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There are so many unique and beautiful gems in the city of Amsterdam. Taking a stroll through the Jordaan with its architectural delights and small bridges, having a picnic in the Vondelpark, taking in incredible art at the Rijks or the Van Gogh Museum (I mean, come on, a whole museum dedicated to Van Gogh?! Be still my heart!), grabbing fresh produce from the Biological Noordermarkt or savoring a fresh homemade-on-the-spot stroopwafel at the Albert Cuyp (I can just feel that warm gooey syrup running down my chin as I write this).
One of the crown jewels for me is the Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam’s botanical garden. Nestled in the Plantages area of the city, a skip and hop away from the Artis, this sweet oasis has really captured my heart. About a year and a half ago we purchased a membership and we find ourselves there weekly. I am baffled how EVER SINGLE WEEK we discover something new. How that is possible is beyond comprehension, unless of course they sneak in new plants in the dead of night while no one is watching. Sometimes it’s a new shoot on one of our favourite plants that we discover, but more often than not, it’s a new plant that we had never even noticed before!
Like last week, we noticed for the first the gympie-gympie plant, a stinging tree native to Australia. It tends to have oval or heart-shaped leaves covered with stinging hairs. "Like being burned by hot acid and electrocuted at the same time," according to botanist Marina Hurley on what it feels like to come into contact with the gympie-gympie. Even if the leaves have been dried and put in storage for a century no less, the hairs are still lethal as found out by some unlucky researchers. How can something with such a cute name be so astoundingly lethal? And as a side note, can I just say how grateful I am that this plant is behind glass. For more about the gympie-gympie click here.
The Hortus is one of the oldest botanical gardens of the world. Established in 1638 by the city municipality, it’s primary function was to be an herb garden with medicinal plants for the Amsterdam doctors and pharmacists. This came about due to a plague epidemic that occurred between 1634-1637. The Hortus was able to amalgamate a vast array of exotic plants that were completely unknown to the whole of Europe. These striking plants had been brought to the Netherlands via traders working under the Dutch East India Company.
If you visit the Hortus today you’ll find over 6,000 different plants divided between an incredible three climate greenhouse, palm greenhouse, butterfly greenhouse and three marvelous outdoor gardens. It never ceases to amaze me how in every season, the Hortus, looks wildly different as the year transitions from spring to summer, summer to fall and then to winter.
Their collection boasts the Victoria water lily, a massive water lily that blooms in the summer months, a Wollemi pine (which until 1994 was only known from prehistoric fossils until a park ranger discovered a group of these growing in the Blue Mountains in Australia), cycads (one of which is a 350-year-old Eastern Cape giant cycad), and my favourite, a beautiful gingko biloba.
I couldn’t say which part of the gardens or greenhouses I love the most, but where I spend the most time in is in the three-climate greenhouse especially in the desert and the tropics portion—two opposite sides of the spectrum. This is where my love affair began with how light affects the way we perceive things, and the contrast between light and shadow. The weather in the Netherlands is so unpredictable and at a moment’s notice it can go from cloud to sun, to hail, to rain, to mist, and back to cloud. Especially clouds…we have an infinite supply of those here. Thus, the last 3 years have really been a study on light for me. And I relish all of its nuances in this beautiful place.
If you visit our shop, you’ll see some beautiful examples of some of the flora that you can find at the Hortus. From the tiniest succulents to the giant banana leaves towering and cascading overhead. The Hortus provides a feast for the senses. And in our shop, you’ll be able to bring some of that beauty right into your own home, with no watering or plant care required!
Amidst all the excitement, noise, culture, and thrill that Amsterdam offers, the Hortus is really an oasis of calm and respite. To us, it’s become a little slice of tranquility which we heartily enjoy. And the coffee’s good too! ;)
I was the quintessential city girl. Thanks to my parents I’ve had the privilege of living in Milan, Sao Paulo, Paris, Toronto, and now as a 30-something adult, Amsterdam. But regardless of the city, there were some sounds that made up my daily sound track: the hustle and bustle of traffic, the roar of motorcycles, the halting brakes of the metro, the pounding of jackhammers, the tiresome beeps of reversing trucks, the dings of a departing tram and now in Amsterdam, the clinking and clanking of passing bicycles. Animals were minimal, and whatever bird life there was, quickly drowned out.
The sounds of nature were not part of my daily repertoire. Fast-forward to my nature-loving husband whose mantra is, “Let’s thank God for the bumblebees and the butterflies,” and a whole new world opened up for me. I remember on some of our first forest walks together being mesmerized by the sweet cacophony of different birds singing away in the canopy of the trees. To me, it felt like nothing short of miraculous. Call me crazy, but it stirred something deep inside that I was (and still) unable to put into words.
It reminds me of a quotation from Shakespeare, “The earth has music for those who listen.” For me, so often I am unable to hear the beautiful music of the earth. One, because I am usually too busy making my own noise, and two, I’ve forgotten to listen (something I’m working on).
Recently, I bumped into an article published by the BBC that explored how plants have senses. They can see and hear, AND respond. Obviously, their senses express themselves a little differently than ours, however, there is no doubt that they are present, and are continually responding to the world around them.
A fascinating study conducted by Heidi Appel and Rex Cocroft from the University of Missouri found that the munching sounds of caterpillars caused plants to release chemical defenses to their leaves for the purpose of deterring these little predators. Isn’t that amazing?! You can read their findings here.
It seems that even though plants do not have ears, in the traditional sense, they can sense vibrations and frequencies, and thus react accordingly. But what else do plants hear?
Birds singing in Hilversum Forest, Netherlands
What astounded me the most was a recent mini lecture that I listened to that explored the relationship between birdsong and plants. Plants receive most of their nutrition through their roots from the soil. However, there are also micronutrients found in the dew that descend in the early morning. Plant leaves have what’s called stomata. A stoma is a tiny opening or mouth found on the under-surface of leaves. Two cells (guard cells) make up the stoma that open and close with resonant frequency or vibration. These stomata are able to open up to receive the micronutrients that come from the air when the dew falls, and thus impact the plant’s growth.
A correlation was made between the opening and closing of the stomata and when birds sing. When do birds sing the most? Usually just before or at dawn precisely as the dew begins to settle. The frequencies from the birdsongs allow the stomata to open and receive all the micronutrients that descend upon the surface of their leaves. Is this not absolutely incredible!!!??
I’ve been able to find a number of articles discussing experiments regarding the link between the opening of stomata with certain frequencies (i.e. musical tones or types of music) and plant growth. There are even businesses in the USA capitalizing on this. They sell a whole sound system, recordings, and fertilizers to farmers that they can use to incorporate this phenomenon. Imagine a farm setting up speakers with surround sound around their fields playing birdsong while simultaneously foliar feeding (spraying water-soluble fertilizers on the surfaces of leaves). I wonder if they turn up the bass on that?! The scientific community seems to be divided on some of the research, however, it has me riveted.
It also brings into question all the pesticides being used for farming, and how it affects birdlife. Of course, there is the known fact that pesticides can have a deadly impact on birds. Like DDT and DDT’s chemical relatives killing bird population. But an indirect effect is bird starvation. One of the main objectives of pesticides is to kill insect threat to crops, but as a result, there is now no longer a food source for birds. So, if they aren’t able to migrate to another location to find food, they die. (You can read more here).
And isn’t it wild to think that the very animals we need to help support our plants and crops to grow and thrive are the very ones we deter or inadvertently kill? Perhaps the issue at hand is much more complicated than my current understanding, nonetheless, it speaks to me about the wonderful balance we find in nature.
It’s miraculous to see and understand how plant and animal life are so interconnected. In the blog post, Amongst Wolves, I mentioned how the reintroduction of wolves had incredibly changed the landscape of Yellowstone National Park. There is so much we can learn from nature. I can only imagine the transformation and flourishing we would see if we prioritized bird life when it comes to the impact that they have on plants (and as a result, our food source).
This brings a whole new meaning to allowing the music of the earth to fill our ears and to allow it to touch our hearts.
Although I have a deep admiration for our feathered friends, I definitely do not have the patience for bird photography. Mike Agiannidis has patience in spades. He is a typical renaissance man- photographer, fisherman, and car whisperer, who is brilliant at all three. Based in Toronto, Canada, him and his wife specialize in landscape and automotive photography. He was kind enough to showcase some of his wonderful bird photography for this blog post. You can find them here, on Instagram, and here. Make sure to check out their superb photography.
Make sure to check out our web shop for beautiful fine art botanical prints to adorn any space you call your own. Let nature in with us!
A couple months ago we announced that our ‘lil team was sprouting. Well, our lil’ sprout is here! It has been just my husband and I for the last 12 years, and now it is unbelievable that we are now 3.
So, let me introduce you to Ethan Oak. We chose the name Ethan because it means strong, optimistic, solid, and enduring. We chose Oak not only because oak trees are symbolic of strength, might, beauty, and highly revered in folklore and mythology. But also, based on the verse found in Isaiah 61:3. It’s a beautiful passage full of hope, and we pray that Ethan Oak will grow into his name and be an oak of righteousness in a turbulent and unsure world.
We are beyond grateful for all of our families’, friends’, and readers’ warm thoughts, prayers, and support. Ethan Oak was born October 18th. He was 8.3 lbs! Birth and delivery was nothing short of miraculous. Contractions began October 16th at around 1PM. After consistently having contractions for 5 hours we thought he was arriving that night. However, Ethan needed much more time. After 2 sleepless nights with intense contractions ranging from 2 to 10 minutes apart, the midwives decided to break my water in the early morning of the 18th, and we soon held Ethan in our arms!! We are so thankful we were able to have Ethan born naturally at home, and our midwives were incredible and so wonderful.
I marvel at just how miraculous our bodies are made, and how they can create, sustain and push out a tiny human life.
Nature knows exactly what to do whether it’s how our bodies function or how plants grow and bloom. Every season evolves into the next in utter beauty from spring to summer to fall to winter. It doesn’t need to be ordered or instructed, everything opens itself up to the elements and surrenders itself to the unfolding of life.
I came across this quotation a few months ago and it is so apt as the chill of winter is approaching and the last leaves descend and return to the earth. Every fall,” the trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.”
I want to encourage you that if you’re going to through a tough season in your life, there is reason enough to raise your head in hope. There is much beauty to be discovered (or rediscovered) all around you… even in the process of letting go. Sometimes the things that we hold on to most tightly are the very things that are weighing us down, and stop us from enjoying what is right in front of us.
Currently, I am learning to be an expert in letting go with this new little one... especially of sleep, but so so so many other things too. And it’s absolutely worth it.
It’s in art to celebrate in the ‘letting go’.
We love to celebrate the wonder of nature here, as I’m sure you’ve already noticed. And we have a couple of happy announcements!
We launched three new mini collections in our shop just in time for Christmas. Each collection comes with a set of two beautiful fine art prints that complement each other perfectly: Tropical Reverie, Fern Fractals, and Arid Daydream. They are each sized 20cm x 30cm or 8in x 12in. They are a gorgeous pair and at a special price for the set.
Furthermore, we are so happy to announce that we've been able to reduce our flat-rate shipping costs for Canadian, American and UK customers (HALLELUJAH!!) and still offer the same exceptional delivery service *insert happy dance*. Our state-of-the-art fine art printers in Germany estimate 10 business days for both printing and delivery to North America.
We also released a November gift for you and are offering a free phone wallpaper to take you back to lazy sunny summer afternoons for those -20/-30 Celsius days (shout out to Toronto)! You can download your free gift here. Feel free to send us a screenshot of your new wallpaper in use via Instagram!
One of my favorite films growing up as a child was Disney’s The Jungle Book. Not only was this film full of animals and some pretty jazzy music (Bare Necessities never fails to bring a smile to my face), but the idea of a little boy being adopted and raised by wolves had always fascinated me. I consider wolves to be such beautiful creatures, but wary of their reputation (think of Red Riding Hood or Aesop’s Fables).
Earlier this year, we bumped into BBC’s Ingenious Animals. In Episode 3 (See a clip here), they delve into the world of animal communication. Specifically, they discuss communication amongst wolves. Previously, it had always been thought that the wolf pack was held together by the aggressive and domineering alpha male. With further research, they found that this was not necessarily the case. During experiments where they took turns removing different members from the pack, the rest of the pack would howl for their missing family member. It was discovered that the wolves would utilize a different call depending on who was missing. They realized that these calls changed depending on the closeness they felt for the missing wolf, in the same way that you would feel different if an acquaintance left the room or your best friend. Thus, this was not necessarily a top-down hierarchy in the traditional sense.
Furthermore, in experiments where they were comparing differences between wolves and domesticated dogs, they found some fascinating results. They performed experiments in which they observed the difference between how wolves share food versus dogs, thus measuring the animals’ tolerance. What they found was that dogs don’t share their food. Whoever is the alpha dog, goes in and eats everything, while the subordinate dog does not even attempt to get a bite. There’s no dinner for the underdog. In all the experiments where the wolf alpha male was released with a subordinate, the wolves always shared their food.
The reasoning behind this behavior? Dogs are scavengers and less likely to share. Wolves have always hunted in packs to bring down their prey, thus they have a need for tolerance, communication, partnership, and friendship, ensuring their success and survival. We could learn a lot from these fascinating and marvelous creatures, don’t you think?
So, why am I telling you this?
Firstly, because we cannot assume that our postulations or the knowledge we have is correct. This is something I am definitely working on :)
Secondly, because this past September we had the incredible privilege of visiting The Wolf Conservation Association in Belgium. Although almost extinct in Europe at one point in time, the wolf has slowly been making a comeback.
This association rescues wolves from private citizens, animal parks, and zoos that no longer wish to keep them. They are often mistreated and when they are no longer wanted are euthanized. It’s heartbreaking to hear of their mistreatment and that once the entertainment value dissipates many of these animals are killed. This association believes that this is not responsible behavior neither does it show love or fair treatment for the animals in question. They champion the cause of wolves by rescuing them, educating the public and making sure that these wolves live in nature or in the very least semi-natural conditions. It’s not just about the protection and preservation of the species but also of the ecosystem. They apply pressure on public authorities for changes in laws for the protection of animals in Belgium and Europe. Wolves aren’t pets.
And if you ever doubted their role within the ecosystem, take a peek at this incredible video which explains what happened to the natural environment once wolves were reintroduced at Yellowstone National Park in the USA.
Our day at the association was wonderful. We were able to see all different types of wolves from all over Europe. We even saw some beautiful Hudson Bay wolves which are native to Canada. All these were semi-wild and very wary of us.
However, we had the amazing privilege to enter into one of the massive enclosures where we were allowed to interact with two Swiss wolves (a brother and sister) that had been hand-reared and were unable to be released into the wild. It was incredible and I’ve been reliving it in my mind and heart ever since. It was like receiving the most loving greeting from your best friend or a wonderful relative you haven’t seen in years. I don’t know if it was the pregnancy hormones that endeared me to them, but I was so moved by their affection. I almost started to feel guilty, as the brother wolf barely left my side. They of course made their rounds to all the guests who had entered in the enclosure, but the brother wolf stayed with me most of the time allowing me to pet him, talk to him, and even feel the pads under his feet as he cuddled with me and sat or laid by my side. I know this wouldn’t happen in the wild and neither should it, but it made me imagine how a perfect world would be without fear. The sister wolf would of course come around, say hi, give a short cuddle, make sure she wasn’t missing anything too exciting, and then would be off on her way.
Unfortunately, time was limited within the enclosure (I think that was the fastest 35-40min ever) and we were not allowed to bring our camera equipment, but I trust that these images we captured with our phones can give you a sense of what happened.
When I think back to that day, I have tears in my eyes, because it’s what I imagine heaven would be like—no fear, only perfect peace where, “the wolf...shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion… together; and a little child shall lead them," (Isaiah 11:6).
It's a memory that I will treasure for the rest of my life. And one which encourages me to keep the discussion going on how we look at, think of, and treat our world around us whether it be how we treat each other, nature or wildlife. Please remember that when you invest in a piece of fine art with us or any product you purchase in our online shop, a percentage of all proceeds will be donated to one of three organizations whose sole mission is: wildlife and habitat conservation, offering medical care to displaced persons in war torn countries, or rescuing children from the sex trafficking industry (You can read more about it here and here).
I’ll leave you with Jane Goodall’s extraordinary words,” Let us develop respect for all living things. Let us try to replace violence and intolerance with understanding and compassion. And love.”