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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: The real benefits of a good old-fashioned soaking

Woods trail, Pippy Park, St. John's.
Woods trail, Pippy Park, St. John's. - SaltWire File Photo

If nature’s not your thing, you can perhaps skip this.

But if by the end of the day your head is about to explode from your job, your fellow workers and the world in general, I’d suggest soaking it.

Let me explain.

There’s been a fair amount of talk about a Japanese concept known as forest bathing — you keep your clothes on, but have a meditative experience in nature. (There’s more to it than that — feel free to track it down online.)

But I’d suggest going one step further.

Spend any amount of time outdoors in Newfoundland and you’re bound to get rained on: it doesn’t matter what the weather forecast says, even if it’s Environment Canada’s hourly forecast. It doesn’t matter if the chance of precipitation is zero. If you’ve got any distance to walk, there’s always the chance that you’ll get wet. I’ve almost always got raingear in my knapsack — and, believe it or not, a ziplock sandwich bag for my phone, just in case.

I had some of my gear on Thursday, but, since there wasn’t supposed to be rain, I had brought a thin hoodless windbreaker, my regular rain pants, rolled up as always in my pack.

A race across the parking lot in the rain is nothing compared to a 45 minute walk, so it’s good to plan ahead.

But I didn’t plan well enough, and as I headed up onto the trail through Pippy Park near the MUN Botanical Gardens, the rain started bucketing down. I could feel the fat raindrops pelting my scalp, the uneven pattern of the cool water tapping away. It was a warm day for rain, somewhere between 16 and 18 degrees, virtually no wind and all around me was the sound of the rain drop slapping the flat surfaces of the deciduous trees and bushes.

I was wet through quickly, my glasses spattered.

At that point, there’s little you can do except keep moving. Cool water was wicking down my head, running in under my collar and down my neck, the windbreaker was doing nothing to stop any of it.

You grit your teeth a bit, resigned that it’s going to be a good soaking.

I came up along the gravel trail to where the forest cover changes to firs and spruce, felt the air change as well, and suddenly the smell of the newly wet forest floor rose up around me. It’s spruce and must and metal and life.

The only way you can come close to replicating it is to pull up an edible mushroom and smell the constantly damp moss and earth clustered at its foot. It is the king of nature’s smells.

Go soak your head. I recommend it.

It’s so special there’s even a word for it, though it’s a relatively new word: petrichor. The dictionary definition is, “a distinctive, earthy, usually pleasant odor that is associated with rainfall especially when following a warm, dry period and that arises from a combination of volatile plant oils and geosmin released from the soil …”

All of that.

I was not going to get any wetter at that point: I was fully wet, bathtub wet, streaming wet.

And oddly happy about it. The rain under the evergreens had a different sound: more sheeting, less pattering. More even and patterned: less random.

Realizing that I was in danger of getting home before I wanted to, I started to meander: side paths lead to side paths, I took a bag out of my knapsack and started gathering the first bright-orange chanterelle mushrooms of the year, even stopped and watched the way evergreen needles gather rain, bend downwards, and drop each drip carefully from each needle tip.  

Getting home and dry seemed like a shame.

My advice? Go soak your head. I recommend it.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.


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