The Magic of Trees?

Image result for cannock chase images

Returning happily (we won!) from a home game I am pleased that the wide, pink skies are still light at half past five. This must be spring getting closer I’m thinking. Encouraging! Longer daylight hours, more time for outdoor evening activities. I’m also brought back to a time I spent with friends in Bergen – and an experience in the primary school where they worked.

A group of ten year old children at dinner time ere hauling the standard two inch something fire hose along the main corridor.

“You should see this,” they told me, as they pushed and pulled the anaconda nozzle out through a classroom window – and dragged it towards a ring of pine trees growing in the play area. Now the play area I should explain was not a level playing field, but sloped, included outcrops of the mountain rocks, the ridged, toe-trap roots of trees, lawns and copses. A child poking a stick down a lidless storm drain raised no eyebrows and there were never teachers – visibly – on duty.

A cleared circle at the centre of the spinney had a fire pit and around fifteen or so of the children had prepared a classic wig-wam of kindling. Which they duly set fire to, then added additional fuel. It was all very well organised. Next, to my surprise each of them sharpened a fifteen inch or so long ash skewer (with sheath knives) and used this to cook a sausage over the flames. Someone else (they took it in turns I was told) had brought bread (but not everyone wanted bread with their sausage).

“This week I bring the meat, next week the fuel …”

Together they sat, talked and took their responsibilities so very maturely. Something in the experience had me thinking of my own childhood in-charge-of-fires, another part had me thinking how very far removed from the reams of health and safety paperwork this was from a child’s life in an English school: the playground surfaces, the fire … and, please, nobody mention those knives!

It was all so very normal for the Norwegian kids: part of the marvellous forest schools that also had them spending half a day every week in the local forest (you are rarely far away from a forest in Norway) and granted permission –if not actively encouraged – to have a fire while there.

Then, completing the twenty five minute journey from the game I look at a blog that, coincidentally links with the flashback:

The post is well worth a look, but is essentially about a Norway-wide philosophy that time spent out of doors is beneficial, even more so if it can be spent with nature. It doesn’t require great wilderness treks, but relieves stress and helps the mind to concentrate. The Victorian town planners with their parks and arboretums, the model-factory owners were visionary in their grasp of this concept it would seem, even though the word “friluftsliv” had yet to be coined.

Image result for friluftsliv images Image result for friluftsliv images

The same can be said for time spent up at the allotment – though, during winter’s dark passage this is done dutifully, rather than with any actual work going on (for me at any rate). The plans to lay the hedge, to set out paths, to repair retaining banks has been put on hold while the border dispute goes on.

However, the time usually spent up there is liberating: just enough work to employ the muscles, enough repetition to not tax the brain – and fresh air and, sometimes, the craic. Friluftsliv indeed!

Image result for the man who made things out of trees

There is yet another serendipitous coincidence; I am currently reading a book, The man Who made Things Out Of Trees (Robert Penn) in which he mentions shinrin-yoku (or “forest bathing”) practised in Japan:


“… basically going for a stroll in an ancient forest – is a standard form of preventative medicine. Inspired by ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices, nearly a quarter of the Japanese population still enjoys forest bathing today. There is also a field of study that tries to understand not just why walking in fragrant, old-growth forests is good for us but also how the magic of trees works on humans at a molecular level, in our cells and neurons. The data is compelling: leisurely forest walks reduce heart rate and blood pressure, decrease sympathetic nerve activity and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.”

Image result for shinrin yoku uk

“Research has examined the relationship between trees and the perception of safety in inner cities, the effect of gardening on the quality of life of people with disabilities, and how the use of wood in interiors can reduce levels of stress in schools. The effect of wood in hospitals has been studied in many countries, including Finland, Norway, Austria, South Korea, Japan, USA, Canada and Denmark. The research is far from conclusive but seems to show that humans react positively to wood in interiors both psychologically and physiologically. The findings correspond with research that suggests spending time in nature improves cognition, helps with anxiety and depression, and even enhances human empathy.

The polymath American biologist EO Wilson first propounded his theory of biophilia – that we have a deep affiliation with other forms of life, like trees, which is instinctive and rooted in our biology – in the mid-80s. Around the same time, Professor Roger S Ulrich completed one of the first and best-known studies in the interdisciplinary field now known as environmental psychology. Ulrich’s conclusion – that patients recovering from surgery in rooms with a window facing natural surroundings took less medicine for pain relief than patients with a window facing a brick wall – was ground-breaking.

The magic of trees works on humans at a molecular level, in our cells and neurons. The data is compelling.”

Certainly we felt better, having completed a steady four mile walk across Cannock Chase, From Marquis Drive to Birches Valley and back, sharing the forest trails with cyclists, walkers, dogs towing adults, horse riders and three outdoor classes (two for off road cycling and one for orienteering). The Chase is a popular place, deservedly so – and on Sunday morning neither of us, unusually objected to the company. There may be a little Norwegian in all of us I suspect.

Image result for cannock chase images


One response to this post.

  1. I felt better after just looking at your photos. Excellent post. (Though I may, of course, be biased after the reblog). 🙂


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