Jennifer DiFrancesco

Summer is an ideal time to ascend to higher ground by way of the Palm Springs Tram to commune with nature. This journey is a reprieve from triple-digit temperatures in the valley and, at the same time, affords us an opportunity for healthy exercise. It’s also an invitation to observe the fascinating ability of trees to teach us about our universe and our interconnectedness with the woods. 

The director of Japan’s forestry coined the term “forest bathing,” and “taking in the forest atmosphere” has been an emerging pastime. Immersing oneself into the depths of the forest is considered a cornerstone of health in Japanese medicine.

The health benefits of being in the wilderness become evident when we consider the proximity of trees in the forest, all connected in an elaborate underground web. This connection through small tubes made up of fungi at roots is called mycorrhizal fungi which spans out and weaves an underground pattern. The thread-like fungi assist each tree or plant by siphoning carbon-rich sugar from branches to roots through photosynthesis. From roots to branches the fungi deliver nitrogen and phosphorous from soil. As in the neural networks in the human brain, this fungus network is not independently helping only one tree at a time; this network is an interdependent, cooperative system. Warning signals related to environmental changes are sent between plants and trees, and transfer of nutrients occurs to help neighboring plants that are struggling. Trees can tell when one tree needs extra help versus another tree, thereby working to create an overall habitable ecosystem. The welfare of each tree must be optimal for a group of trees to prosper. In forests, trees are the foundation, and they provide the habitat for everything else to thrive. 

As we walk along the forest floor, we can imagine this intricate below-ground pipeline. We can imagine it as a secret, social media underworld. This interconnectedness with trees can unearth our sensitivity to our own interconnectedness with others and everything in nature. As we begin to connect with this environmental wonder, one can take the experience of forest dwelling into everyday life. Engaging and helping within our community while sensing others around us in subtler ways beyond words becomes a goal. 

Reflecting on John Muir’s words captures this opportunity, “Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” This invitation to take a walk in the woods enables us to experience a heightened awareness of the inner workings of nature and ourselves.

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