My Virtual School – forest bathing. 23.4.2020

23 April 2020. Earth Day yesterday. Its 50th anniversary. A reminder that climate change, global warming, mass extinctions are not just recent concerns but have been on the agenda for two generations already. A research request today about White’s Plantation and its possible link to Capability Brown at Radley reminded me that his work on the landscape was rediscovered as part of growing concern over increasing urbanisation in the 1930s. We’ve been fighting this battle for a long time now.

Twitter was filled with posts from museums and art galleries and from the National Trust and Woodland Trust showcasing woodlands in art – places people can’t get to during lock-down. And advocating the Japanese idea of ‘forest bathing’, simply walking among trees to enhance well-being. Mental well-being is becoming the focus of NHS messages on the television as the impact of lock-down begins to erode mental health. Boredom, family friction, fear and loneliness are taking their toll.

Walking the dog this morning I met a very old lady, well into her 80s. She was taking her hour’s exercise walking in the bluebell wood. But she really needed someone to talk to. Would have loved to fuss the dog as well, but knew she must not. Her children and grandchildren, even two great grandchildren, are in New Zealand. She was widowed in November. So all this time she has been alone, mourning. She is also losing her sight and can’t drive to the hospital or to buy food. We talked about community help, where to get fresh vegetables, bread and milk. She said how she was sharing purchases with her neighbour. Talked about the comradeship she experiences in the village. But overall, that terrible loneliness.

I walked in the large wood with the dog. Flowers everywhere – lush purple carpets of bluebells, with forget-me-nots, wild garlic, celandines, anemones, red and white campions. And above us the trees in flower as well – white blossoms on the hawthorns, crab-apples, cherries, and the candles on chestnuts. Bird song all around. Truly a place for well-being. Such a pity that so many cannot get out to experience a glorious spring.

© Clare Sargent