25 Fun Things to Do on Your Next Hike (Besides Hike)
Jennifer Davis, forest educator, describes a whole bunch of contemplative yet invigorating activities in her new book, 100 Things to Do in a Forest. Read through these excerpts to see how you can connect with nature in order to create a happier life.
First conceptualized in Japan around 1980, forest bathing is not about going to the forest for exercise or socializing, but about deliberately absorbing and connecting with the forest atmosphere. The principles of forest bathing are simple: venture out into the forest, walk slowly, and notice all that goes on around you. Eschew all constructive contemplation and instead practice mindfulness and open yourself up to the healing powers of forest bathing. Did you know breathing can improve mindfulness?
Finding poo and footprints is a fairly obvious way to identify wildlife, but for true Sherlockian investigatory prowess, hone your skills at reading other traces. Feeding traces: Look out for half-eaten carcasses or discarded inedible bits of animals, as these could be evidence of the presence of larger predators. Or, look for badger trails: areas of long grass that have been worn down where an animal has ventured out for food along the same track every night of its life. Feeling inspired? Make sure you hit the best hiking trails in every state.
The need to express our deepest desires has always been an important part of personal human interaction. And trees have stood as both the receivers and the guardians of those wishes for thousands of years. A wishing tree need not be adorned with bows or shoes to grant wishes; simply casting your words into the branches will suffice. But it must be a specific tree that you return to time and again. Whether you believe the wishes will be granted or not, the ceremony of going to a special tree to make a wish can be a wonderful experience. That is the true magic of the wishing tree. If this is your preferred activity, you’ll love these 20 jaw-dropping pictures of the world’s most amazing trees.
Courtesy Eleanor TaylorLie down at the side of a pond, river, or stream and have a look at the worlds within. To the insects, fish, and myriad other creatures within, there is no life except the life that bubbles along in that body of water upon which you are gazing. Watch as they go about their busy lives, take in the wonder of their unique styles of locomotion, observe the interaction between species. After 20 minutes you’ll find you’ve become a part of that experience of belonging to the natural world—and that may even give you a more grounded understanding of the spaces you inhabit.
Find a small tree, a bush, a flower, or a stick that is casting a shadow and lay a piece of white paper down on the ground or on your lap so that the shadow is lying fully on the paper. Now draw around the edges of the shadow, examining its nooks and crannies, and making sure to trace every detail. The meditative effect of focusing on the small details of your tracing will keep your mind as still as it is when you’re doing adult coloring, but with the added gratification of producing something totally original. These are 50 of the most beautiful quotes about nature to inspire your creativity.
Fortunately, the value of art is in the eye of the beholder, so, in the solitude of the forest, everyone’s an artist. And from the beauty of the forest comes art for all to enjoy. You might leave a small clay bird perched on a branch in a tree along your road. Or cover tree bark in colored chalk, as it washes away to leave no trace. Whatever art you leave, remember it doesn’t need to be grand to kindle someone’s forest love; it just needs to be.
Following an insect
Courtesy Eleanor TaylorOn your next forest walk, keep your eyes and ears open for insects and minibeasts. If you’re in an active kind of mood, follow a butterfly. If you’re feeling lazy, perhaps keep your eyes peeled for a slug. Whatever your mood, find a creature and then follow it about. No destinations will be reached. Just meander. Just follow. Just observe. Just make the time to recapture a bit of that frivolous childish wonder with the world.
Go for a walk in your usual forest spot and consider how grey, bare, and bedraggled the world looks. Then start looking low, looking high, and looking in all the nooks and crannies that your eye usually glances over without much thought. There you will find bright green moss, yellow leaves, orange seeds, purple berries, and red stems. You’ll discover that you don’t need to look very hard before you realize that actually, the world is still full of color and life. Speaking of colors in the wild…these are 15 of the most colorful natural wonders on Earth.
Walking with staff
The wooden staff is a conductive tool that allows the user to re-establish a connection between the body and the earth. On any woodland walk, simply pick up a straightish stick long enough to hold your arm at a right angle when it’s touching the ground, and you’ve practically become a pilgrim. Now take your staff and head out for a walk, a pilgrimage, or a ramble. However, you choose to walk, use the time to acknowledge the connection between your body and the earth.
Courtesy Eleanor TaylorStart your dice-rolling walk wherever you would start an ordinary walk. The beauty of allowing a roll of the dice to be your only guide is that it’s up to you to choose how many options to give yourself. Use the number you roll to help you choose a map square, or choose between two options by assigning one choice to odd and the other to even numbers. However you play it, just set your choices ahead of time and then let the dice decide your course. Plan your first dice rolling walk at one of the 20 best hikes across America.
Making daisy chains is a truly simple task: just pick the daisies with the thickest stems for sure-fire success. Make a slit in the stem with your thumbnail about halfway along and thread the stem of the next daisy through the hole. Repeat until you’ve got a chain long enough for a bracelet, crown, necklace, or skipping rope. You won’t believe these flowers are actually photos.
Courtesy Eleanor TaylorA few tips and tricks to improve your whittling will see you moving from spears to veritable works of art in a matter of hours. To start, look for “green” branches that are freshly cut and moist, from a softwood tree such as hazel, pine, or lime. Make sure the whittling blade is impeccably sharp, and whenever the carving becomes difficult or requires more force, resharpen the blade. It’s worth remembering that in any whittling adventure you’re likely to: Find peace and quiet in the natural world, which is far more important in the long run than your hand-carved pencil.
Most public forests place restrictions on fires, so either check the by-laws for your local public woodland or find a friendly local landowner who is happy for you to light fires in an unused bit of their land. Choose a spot with no overhanging trees or branches. Prepare your pit for the fire by clearing detritus from a patch on the ground, and create a circular barrier with stones or rotten logs. Make sure there’s sufficient clearance for people to sit about a meter away from the outer rim of your barrier.
Meditations for walking
Courtesy Eleanor TaylorThis is not meant to be a guided script to follow as you walk, but rather an opportunity to consider more deeply some of the things that might influence your thinking as you walk. Try to avoid any judgment in your thinking, and just notice what is real. So, instead of saying to yourself that is a lovely flower, try replacing that judgment with that is a yellow wildflower. As you walk, notice: The way the tops of the trees touch to form a canopy; the sound of the leaves rustling against one another; the sensation in your feet as you walk on different surfaces. This is one woman’s experience on the positives of starting to meditate during quarantine.
It is possible to build a shelter strong and weatherproof enough to camp out in for a night, but the likelihood of anyone doing this in the age of pop-up tents is very small. Instead, how about making a temporary shelter for when it unexpectedly starts to rain, a shelter to block the wind or sun, or a shelter to eat lunch in, just for the fun of it? Just a few of the different shelter types include the teepee, the lean-to, and the tent.
Easily identifiable and not likely to be confused with other plants, these wildflowers are safe for even the most novice enthusiasts to munch. In general, it is advisable to pick and eat wildflowers growing in the countryside away from housing and heavy traffic to avoid those that have absorbed pollution and toxic chemicals from weedkillers. Read on to learn more about edible wildflowers such as the dandelion, the forget-me-not, the red clover, and more.
Courtesy Eleanor TaylorTaking inspiration from that most masterful of artists, Mother Nature, you can create a beautiful and satisfying piece of art simply by collecting and displaying a handful of leaves. Collect about 20 leaves from a single tree species, ranging in color from still fully green, to dappled yellow or red, all the way through to brown and crisp. The beauty of creating a small piece of art like this lies in the focused process of seeking out the materials; the careful examination of the characteristics of the leaves; and the deliberate arrangement of the leaves you’ve collected. This is why leaves change colors.
Woodland yoga variations
If you are a yogi, look away. This is not an in-depth look at the techniques of yoga practice; the suggestions here simply describe how you could change some familiar poses to take advantage of the forest environment. Just a few of the notable positions are called the mountain, the warrior tree, the bear, the log, and many more. On the fence about taking up yoga? These are 10 signs that your body (and your mind) wants you to practice yoga.
Simple campfire bread
You will need to prepare this in advance, because the dough appreciates some time to sit and ponder. The key to good baking/roasting/charring is getting a massive roaring fire going and then letting it burn low so that you’ve got a big bed of white-hot embers over which to cook your bread. Don’t stop feeding the fire, though, or in 20 minutes you’ll have no new embers to replenish the old ones; keep it going in half of your pit and cook your bread on the other side.
Listening to trees
Courtesy Eleanor TaylorThe concept is simple: lean your ear against the trunk and you will hear that trees make a magical, conversational, mellifluous sound when their uppermost branches are swaying in the wind. Place your ear next to a tree. No, really, shake off your inhibitions, don’t fret about whether someone will see you, and then just do it. Find a nice tall tree whose top branches are swaying dramatically in the wind, and rest your ear against the trunk. Now listen. These 13 rare trees are national treasures.
Artforms in nature
Look at the spiral of a snail shell; the ripples in sand created by the wind; a dried-up pond with a cracked clay surface; the radiating veins of a leaf; the concentric rings within the trunk of a tree; the filaments of flowers; spiders’ webs; a moth’s wing; the honeycomb of a beehive (are you that brave?), or a bird’s feather. There is joy to be found in noticing the small things in the world around you, so give yourself the gift of the time to do so. Speaking of art in nature–these 20 photos celebrate our natural world. So much beauty!
Across the centuries and continents, cairns have been used as waymarkers, to mark summits, as memorials to fallen friends, as markers of a religious place, or, more recently, just as proof of having wandered by. The forest provides a perfect environment for building cairns, as they are less likely to be disturbed when built off the beaten track, and can be left as a secret memorial to mark a special occasion.
Courtesy Eleanor TaylorThink of the forest as an outdoor counseling service, a place of both calm and rejuvenation where all stress can be left behind. Then commit to 20 minutes of serious journaling. The beautiful thing about journaling in the woods is that you have a lot of options for what to do with the paper on to which you’ve cast your innermost thoughts. Burn it on a campfire. Bury it in the ground. Tie it high up in a tree. Or maybe just save it, so that one day it can be read out on a kooky radio program. But whatever you do, get those words out without restraint. Ever wanted to start a gratitude journal? This is what one really looks like.
Find a tree with regularly spaced branches at least as thick as your wrist. A general rule is that you should be able to get yourself up into the tree without assistance, to be sure that you can safely climb it. Once you’ve got yourself two or three steps or reaches from your starting point, stop for a moment to take in the view and see how different it feels to have just this slight change in perspective. Allow yourself time to breathe and take in the sights and sounds around you before pressing on with your climb.
Courtesy Eleanor TaylorSimply walking, rather than exercising, is the activity that is most replenishing to the human body. Regular, sustained walking stimulates blood flow, which flushes oxygen through the body and helps to keep the metabolic system functioning steadily throughout the day. Allow yourself the time to spend at least a day a week walking. Honor your body’s needs by pushing aside the stresses and demands, and simply go outside and walk.
Read more about the beneficial and fun activities Davis explains in her book 100 Things to Do in a Forest. And next, check out these 12 true stories from the most haunted forests in the world.