At camp, boys are surrounded by nature for weeks at a time, savoring time outdoors and soaking up the sunshine. We all know that spending time outside is healthy, but did you know there’s research on how just spending time in the forest can be preventative medicine?
In Japan, they call this shinrin-yoku (which roughly translates to forest bathing), and have been studying the benefits for years. This study describes how “the term Shinrin-yoku was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982, and can be defined as making contact with and taking in the atmosphere of the forest.” In this 2017 study, the physiological and psychological benefits of immersion in nature were reviewed, showing how practicing “forest bathing” is therapeutic.
What does this have to do with camp? When boys come to Falling Creek, many of them are from big cities or busy neighborhoods, and they don’t often have the chance to enjoy the sounds and smells of nature for long periods of time. At camp, they live and play in nature, sleep in open-air cabins, and walk to each activity outdoors. If brief periods in a forest environment can lower cortisol levels, lower pulse rate and blood pressure, and lower sympathetic nerve activity more than when in an urban environment, imagine the benefits of living outdoors for a full month! “Forest bathing” can help you be more mindful and present, while boosting your immune system and mood. Maybe that is part of the reason why many people say that camp is their “happy place.”
On Thursday night, some campers in the Nature activity period had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the outdoors on a special overnight trip. Carson and Liz took the boys on a “constellation hunt” overnight, to sleep under the stars and identify specific constellations. They hiked out to the orchard side of camp property before dinner, and made their own macaroni pasta meal that night with a camping stove. Once the stars came out, they enjoyed admiring them on a clear night.
A few of the boys on the trip were close to getting their Ranger or Warrior progression levels, and identifying the North Star and 3 constellations were part of those progressions. Carson was excited to announce that Tucker P. achieved Warrior after the trip! “I found the constellations Draco, Ursa Major, and Ursa Minor, plus the North Star,” Tucker said. Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are also known as the Big and Little Dippers. Though some people mistakenly think that the North Star is the brightest in the sky, it’s relatively easy to find once you know it’s the last star in the handle of the Little Dipper.
I asked Tucker what his goals are now that he has achieved Warrior in Nature, and he said that he has his sights set on becoming a Journeyman next year. “I still want to stay in Nature to help out, but next year I want to get my Warrior in OSC (Outdoor Skills Certified) and become a Journeyman,” Tucker said.
Regardless of the destination or activity, it seems that everyone has been enjoying eachothers company and soaking up time outdoors. This is certainly the mood going into this final week of the session, where no matter what we’re doing, we’ll be savoring every moment spent outside with friends! Today is Saturday and we’ll be enjoying a break from our regular activities, participating in tournaments and playing an all-camp-game of Capture the Flag!