Speaking of Nature: Become a part of the background: Reasons why you can, and should, take up nature bathing

This fledgling downy woodpecker can be identified as a little male by the red cap on his head. He actually started to take a nap while sitting just 12 feet away from me.

This fledgling downy woodpecker can be identified as a little male by the red cap on his head. He actually started to take a nap while sitting just 12 feet away from me. PHOTO BY BILL DANIELSON


For the Gazette

Published: 07-02-2024 1:20 PM

Sometime back in the 1980s, in response to increased urbanization and technological development, the government of Japan decided that it was a good idea for people to turn off their electronics and get back to nature. Thus it was that the concept of “Forest Bathing” was officially named in 1982 and prescribed by the Japanese Ministry of Forestry. Too many people were under too much stress and their health was suffering. Nature seemed the best medicine.

Just two years later, the eminent American biologist E. O. Wilson published a book titled “Biophilia.” In it he introduced the world to his “Biophilia Hypothesis,” which is the belief that humans are genetically predisposed to be attracted to nature. We are living things and though humans stand apart from the other creatures that inhabit Earth, we are still relatively young from an evolutionary standpoint. Isn’t it possible that somewhere deep in our genetic memory we remember living our entire lives outside and connected with the natural world?

I think that this is an idea that very few people could successfully argue with. Each of us, at some level, is drawn to the idea of Nature. We might seek out photographs that make us feel good. We might watch nature documentaries that provide a measure of soothing. Some may feel a stronger pull than others and may actually (gasp) go outside! The comfort of the back yard patio, or the deck on the side of the house will be accentuated by the presence of flowers and other living, growing things.

For me the siren song of Nature is so strong that I make a daily journey to the edge of my meadow where I sit in my beloved Thinking Chair and try to become a part of the background. In the past two weeks I have been present for the arrival of a family of downy woodpecker fledglings and I have watched, with great amusement, as the father of this unruly band of baby birds has stymied him at every turn. But the most important thing about this time spent in the company of little birds is the fact that each of these young woodpeckers seems to have accepted my presence as “normal.”

They aren’t even mildly disturbed by my presence and I can write in my notebook, raise my camera in their direction, take photos (a potentially scary sound) and even sway at mosquitoes without making them uncomfortable. I am just the guy that sits over there while their father picks up food and brings it to them. I am nothing to be feared and the more contact we have, the more “normal” it appears. Just last week I had one of the young males (identified by the red cap on top of his head) pause in the light of sunrise and start to take a nap. He appeared to be very comfortable and his eyes started to get a little squinty.

One doesn’t need a meadow and a far-off destination to commune with Nature, however. Anyone can do it at any time and in almost any place. All you have to do is pick a spot and then go to it day after day. Get yourself a comfortable chair and sit with a cup of coffee every morning and you will eventually become a part of the background. Keep a sharp lookout for the comings and goings of the living things around you and you will inevitably make a fun discovery. Add a cheap notebook into the mix and you will be a naturalist. The only trick is putting in the time.

I end this week’s column with some interesting news. Remember the leucistic red squirrel that I featured in a column two weeks ago? Well, it turns out that there are four of them! One has nothing more than a white tail. Another has the front half of the body completely normal and the rear half totally white. A third has an amazing example of lateral symmetry with its coloration, making it a living Rorschach inkblot. The fourth is almost totally white.

And the names have been pouring in! Nutsy Squirrel, Lou, Louis, Lucy, Leuci, Frosty, Patches, Frostie, Ziggy, Sassy, Pinto Bean, Gingham, Mr. Freeze, Spatch, Luke, Casper, Sparky, Pearl, Roan, Sugar, Rusty, Pale Tail, Lu, Lee and Blanche have all been suggested. The most common suggestions were Frosty and some sort of play on the name Lou, but with four squirrels (observed while Nature Bathing!) there are extra names needed. I shall mull it all over and share the winners with you next week.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 27 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts State Parks and he currently teaches high school biology and physics. For more in formation visit his website at www.speakingofnature.com, or go to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.