Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Taking advantage of my Spring Break, the other day I went with a dear friend to explore Jonathan Dickinson State Park. It is about 45 minutes North of Boynton Beach, but definitely worth the trip.

Since this is a massive park, you can camp, RV, mountain bike, canoe, kayak, etc. But my friend and I just hiked. There are many trails available, but they are all fairly similar in that the vegetation, landscape, etc. is mostly: low pine flatwoods. Although there are also cypress swamps, mangroves, saw palmetto, etc. It made for a wonderful and refreshing as the Japanese call it shinrin-yoku, forest bath, which the Germans call Waldeinsamkeit, although that refers more to the pleasant feeling you get in nature. So more of a resulting sensation than the actual forest bath itself.

The surprisingly beautiful Loxahatchee River crosses the Park. Surprising because it is unexpected and beautiful. There is a little beach for campers to swim, and you can kayak or canoe. If you are lazy there is a little boat that will give you a ride up and down the river!

One must pay attention when hiking to catch little things that would otherwise pass unobserved, like Pink Sundew carnivore flowers, or hawks flying, or a gorgeous woodpecker. We also spotted a nice Gopher tortoise and a copperhead snake (this one was dead, as it had gotten run over as it tried to escape the controlled burning… out of the fire and under the wheel, as the old saying goes…)

Jonathan Dickinson Park, so called for the fellow shipwrecked on Jupiter Island a few miles away from the Park in 1696, also boasts the highest “mountain” in South Florida, Hobe Mountain, complete with its observation tower. It is in fact, an 86-foot sand dune!! Admittedly, the views from the top are cool, since you can see the sea, the Intracoastal, and the massive park. The rangers were doing some controlled burning, which burns dead leaves and brush, but does not kill the bigger trees or saw palmettos.

We also saw the ruins of Camp Murphy, a military radio “school” during WWII.

Nature in my Southern Florida neighborhood

If you have at all followed this blog, you know how important nature is for me. Although I am a city boy, I grew up spending every weekend and Summer in the country. I still crave nature and try to spend as much time outdoors as possible. I have written before about the benefits of “forest bathing”, “Shinrin Yoku”. Although Boynton Beach is a suburban wasteland, there are a few great places to connect with nature.

The first and most obvious is the beach! I am lucky to live close enough to the beach that I can go for a run or if conditions are right, an open water swim about once a week. It makes my workout into a meditation; the sea clears your mind! I also go to the beach for my weekly “volunteering” shift where I walk and clean, mostly plastics, but also papers, old flip flops, etc. from the shore.

On the opposite, Western edge of town is the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge which consist of two parts, a mile boardwalk in Florida subtropical forest, and massive swamp that you can walk next to, or canoe on. Here you can see a lot of Florida wildlife: gators, deer, and plenty of birds.

Finally, a few blocks from home I have the Seacrest Scrub Natural Area which is a small park mostly hosting Gopher turtles. This little park is perfect for a quick walk to clear your mind, meditate or just wander.

So I can’t complain as far as outdoor venues is concerned.

Forest bathing – Shinrin-yoku

As we are confined to our homes during this Coronavirus crisis. One thing we can do is think of the future, of trips and adventures. Something I cannot wait to do is to enjoy a forest bath.

Last Summer walking a stretch of the Camino de Santiago with Satomi, a wonderful Japanese pilgrim, I learnt about Forest Baths. It means pretty much that, walking through a forest enjoying it and taking it all in. Use all your senses to touch trees, smell the air, listen to the sounds, see the trees, and the forest. It is a full body experience if you open yourself up to it.

The ever surprising Japanese culture came up with this concept of forest bathing in the 80’s and called it literally shinrin-yoku, forest bath. As rural areas emptied and urban areas grew. What began as a bit of marketing is now a wellness trend which has never stopped being there.

My discovery is not some obscure practice, even Time magazine has written about it, saying this in their May 2018 issue:

This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.

I have been lucky to enjoy many forest baths, even when I did not realize I was forest bathing. My last one being during my meditation retreat to El Paular Monastery (see previous posts). I am planning on forest baths as soon as this nightmare is over.

So there you have it. Get out and take a forest bath. You are welcome!

(For the more visually inclined here is a nice clip on forest bathing from CBS, enjoy)