Forest fires give me a sense of unease. Even where there are no fires, the woods are so dry that there is a smell in the air that is disturbing for people who practice shinrin-yoku, forest bathing or forest breathing. Good research has demonstrated that time spent in nature is good for one’s mental wellbeing, but I have a suspicion that the opposite can be true if the forest “feels” threatened. Something is not right, and a sensitive person can smell it. I look forward to the rainy season beginning. Not only will it put out the fires still burning freely in the wilderness areas, it will give us the sense — smell — that the seasons are back on track. A wet forest smell is as recognizable as the smell of a wet dog. And much more wonderful.
I have a theory that borders on the metaphysical. Perhaps one of the causes of our breakdown of civil society is distancing from nature. The distancing is both subliminal (like urbanites not having access to forests to breathe or enjoy) and intellectual (like not recognizing we are part of nature). We originated from nature as every other living being. Environmental decay is the driver of distancing and, quoting Chris Hedges from the Sept. 27 Eugene Weekly, “Physical decay always has moral consequences.”
The gadwalls and wigeons are back in Delta Ponds. We need to be grateful to Eugene Parks Department for developing urban natural areas. These are essential to mental health of Eugene.
David Wagner is a botanist who works in Eugene. He teaches moss classes, leads nature walks and makes nature calendars. He can be contacted through his website, fernzenmosses.com.