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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This past March we had the wonderful opportunity to go to Paris! We’ve been there many times however this time was definitely different as we went with the bébé! When you’re sans bébé navigating through the Paris Metro, wandering through the cobblestone streets and feasting your eyes on the artwork of one or ALL the museums is a synch. With bébé, everything has become more complex, and think again about taking that stroller into the metro. This is reserved for the very brave (or foolish) souls out there. We were foolish… I mean brave…. but only once. Can I get an amen from all the baby-carrying mamas!?
Number one on the list for this trip was the Grandes Serres du Jardin des Plantes. And it did not disappoint. If you caught our feature on Amsterdam’s Hortus Botanicus (you can read it HERE), you know we love exploring botanical gardens and wandering through their marvelous collections of plants.
The Grandes Serres originally started to protect and preserve a collection of orangeries. These orange trees were housed in utility buildings and were off limits to the general public. It is only later that we see the appearance of the first greenhouses made of glass and wood; built for the chief purpose of conserving the botanical collections that naturalists would bring back from their explorative voyages outside of France.
In the early 19th Century, the concept of combining metal with glass was introduced to the construction of greenhouses. This allowed for stronger structures and better insulation for the varied temperatures that the plants needed. England spearheaded this innovation and architects, most notably Charles Rohault de Fleury, were sent to bring back this innovation to France. Between 1834 and 1836, Rohault de Fleury built two greenhouses: the Eastern Pavilion and the Western Pavilion (both would later be renamed). These two structures were the prototypes of modern greenhouses and significantly are the first greenhouses in the world of such large dimensions made of glass and metal.
The tropical greenhouse constructed in typical Art Deco style was built in the 1930s by Rene Berger. It is here that we started our visit and it was absolutely incredible. Our senses were captivated by the biodiversity we found there. Every step we took seemed filled with so many different varieties of plants: cascading banana leaves, gorgeous ferns, dangling orchids and a waterfall of monstera deliciosa (my favourite) just to name a few. It was a treat for our souls. They had built a structure at one end of the greenhouse that you could climb up inside to have a panoramic view. It was gorgeous, and of course gave me a chance to get up close and personal with their breath taking monsteras.
Monstera deliciosa is a type of flowering plant common to southern Mexico and Panama, but they have been introduced worldwide. I was always taken aback by their name: why monstera (a.k.a monstrous)? It refers to the sheer size that these beauties can grow to… over 9 meters in some cases! That may be indeed monstrous! They are a member of the Arum family Araceae with very impressive aerial root systems. What fascinates me the most is the fenestrate leaves—although each leaf is similar, they are each so unique with different perforations and lines.
From the tropical rainforest greenhouse, we ventured into the deserts and arid environments greenhouse – a complete change of atmosphere and certainly temperature. Their collection had cacti and succulents from all over the world: USA, Mexico, the Andes, South Africa, the Sahara and even Madagascar! I am always so intrigued how these plants have each a different way of conserving water, reproducing and their fascinating defense mechanisms for deterring predators.
From there you enter the greenhouse of New Caledonia which contains plants from… you guessed it, New Caledonia. New Caledonia is a French territory in the southwest Pacific Ocean about 1,210 km east of Australia. Discovered by the British navigator James Cook in 1774 it came into the hands of the French in 1853. What makes this collection so special is that it contains several plants that are actually quite ancient in origin and are ancestral to the genealogical tree of the plant kingdom. New Caledonia is only 19 058 km², but it is incredibly rich in more than 3000 species of fauna and flora that do not exist anywhere else in the world. In fact, 76% of plant species and 72% of known animal species are endemic. Amazing! The greenhouse presents this flora through five environments: the humid forest, the dry forest, the maquis, the savanna and the mangrove. You can see a brochure of this collection here.
Finally, you enter into the history of plants greenhouse where the evolution of plants is traced beginning from 430 million years ago. Here you see a wide variety of gorgeous ferns (another favourite of mine) including breathtaking tree ferns, as well as cycads, a Ginkgo Biloba, lianas and the tour ends with flowering plants.
Botanical Gardens aren’t just beautiful places where one can admire and marvel at the beauty of plants or learn about their history. In a world where we are losing so much biodiversity in the name progress and economic growth, these places become safe havens for our rarest flora. Many botanical gardens including the one in Paris and the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam contain rare and endangered plants. They are “banks of plant biodiversity.” If these plants multiply, they are spread and shared between a network and community of botanical gardens. This becomes very important as botanical gardens are most notably places of research and of course knowledge dissemination to the wider public. Thus, it’s another place where we can learn the importance of taking care of our dear home. You don’t just learn about the plants themselves, but their part in a wider ecosystem including their relationships with the flora and fauna you would find in their natural and wild environment.
If you’re ever in Paris, the plant lover in you will find great joy in visiting the Grandes Serres du Jardin des Plantes. The greenhouses are just a small part of the Jardin de Plantes. They also have an Alpine Garden, Ecological Garden, Rose Garden, Peony Garden (next time we come in June!) and an Iris Garden, just to name a few. And if you come with others who aren’t so botanically inclined they have something for everyone: the Gallery on Evolution, the Gallery of Minerals and Geology, a zoo, the Museum of Man and special exhibitions.
I brought back a treasure trove of new material that I making my way through, so keep your eyes peeled for a new release of fine art prints.
For just a little under a year, I’ve had these words play over and over again in my mind, “I am bold, no fear inside. Spread my wings, open my life. Like an eagle, whose home is the sky. I’m gonna catch the wind. I’m gonna catch the wind.” (You can listen to the song here). I’ve been fascinated by them, meditated on them and mulled them over in my mind. These words became even more special for me in October, as they became my main mantra while our lil’ sprout was coming into this world (read more here).
Fast forward 5 months, and I’m still being impacted by them…
This March we had the wonderful opportunity to take an eagle workshop in Berkel en Rodenrijs, Netherlands with the organization Birds @ Work Valkerij Manege. They are the largest falconry organization in the Benelux with more than 260 birds including birds of prey and owls.
We were able to handle and meet 4 birds of prey: an adult and juvenile American Bald Eagle, a Bateleur and fly a Steppe Eagle. They were each so incredibly unique both in appearance, personality, and I wouldn’t be able to name a favorite.
The most unique eagle we were able to handle was the Bateleur. They originally come from Sub-Saharan Africa but have also been found as far north as the Arabian Peninsula. Their name “Bateleur” pays homage to the French word for tight-rope walker in reference to the way in which this eagle is able to catch its balance in midair. An adult can weigh up to 2.6kg. They can fly up to a distance of 320km and fly up to 8 hours as they glide through the air. One of their most distinctive features apart from their colouring is their very short (and cute) tail. They are on the near threatened endangered list.
We also had the opportunity to handle both an adult and juvenile American Bald Eagle. They can weigh up to 6kg and have a wingspan of up to 244cm. They receive their characteristic white plumage when they are adult and ready for breeding. Until then they go through 7 subsequent stages where their plumage varies. They are a force to be reckoned with as they can reach heights of up to 15,000 feet and can swoop down at speeds of 320km per hour. And their eyes! We were both mesmerized by their colour – a light liquid gold and a gaze of such sheer intensity. Equally impressive is the force and strength in their talons: 250kg per square centimeter. Can you imagine?
If there was one moment that was most unforgettable for me was watching how the eagles reacted to the natural elements. It was a freezing day with the humidity and with the wind chill it varied between -10 and -12 as wind speeds surpassed 40km/h and gusts of up to 65km/h. The falconers kept telling us, “Face the wind. Face the wind,” as we handled these beautiful creatures
As they rested on our arms, there was no mistaking when the eagle would sense a wind gust coming. The body language completely changed as if they were ready for total lift off. The gaze in their eyes switched from one of neutrality to one of total excitement, concentration, and zeal as if they were telling us, “This is what I was born to do.” For me, there was no mistaking that these were wild animals and they were made to fly. To see this touched my heart so deeply.
The conditions were difficult with the high wind speeds. We were not able to fly with the younger American Bald Eagle so they brought in a beautiful Steppe Eagle for us to fly with. Steppe Eagles are found in Europe, Asia and Africa. They can weigh up to 5kg and have a wingspan of up to 214cm. It was then that we could really understand that although eagles fly, they aren’t meant to really flap their wings as other birds normally do to traverse distances. Eagles have very large wings which means that they require exorbitant amounts of energy to flap them in order to fly.
Instead, they are meant to soar!
They flap their wings to create lift but once that’s been accomplished, eagles spend most of their time soaring and gliding through the air. They soar either by finding rising air currents or via dynamic soaring which doesn’t rely on rising air currents. Instead it uses the differences in wind speeds between the ground and higher altitudes. The eagle climbs into the faster airflow by facing the wind and begins a cycle between heading downwind and then upwind between the different airflows to gain speed.
Foolishly, I thought soaring for an eagle requires no work or rather it is easy work. However, they are in a constant state of flux, switching between airstreams, speeds, going downwind and then up again and using opposing forces to gain both speed and momentum. Let me say that again, using opposing forces to gain both speed and momentum. Isn’t that amazing? (And I haven’t even started talking about how certain obstacles like ridges or mountains actually provide the best lift as the wind is forced to flow up the side of a mountain).
So often I feel like I shy away from adversity and fierce winds. I make excuses, “It’s too hard. I’ll fail. I’m afraid, etc.” I tend to look 50 steps ahead and feel defeated before I even start. What if I just turned my face towards the wind with single focus and zeal? What if I solely focused on catching the wind from that next airflow and trusting that when I need to change direction, the subsequent airflow will come just at the right time? Or instead of becoming one hot mess when I face an obstacle that seems insurmountable seeing it as an opportunity for the perfect ‘lift’?
My friends, I can’t help but marvel at nature. What an incredible few short hours spent with these astonishing birds.
As we have been wrestling with changing directions in our personal lives as of late (becoming new parents has a tendency to do that, LOL), I’m storing all these lessons in my heart and mustering the courage to face the wind.
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!