Spring hike in Pocahontas – Shinrin-Yoku

This past Saturday, we were blessed with a beautiful Spring day in Virginia. We rounded up the rugrats and headed to our favorite local park – Pocahontas State Park! It would be our one year old’s first time in the ol backpack and he seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. There is something certainly magical and calming about the beauty of the forest. Have you ever noticed that after spending time in the forest, you just generally feel better? Well there’s a good amount of published medical literature regarding the biophysiological changes that happen after spending time in the forest. This area of research has been picking up steam in the past several decades in several countries, linking it to positive effects on your immune system, heart rate, blood pressure, and mood. The Japanese have actually come up with a term called: Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing). Studies demonstrate that spending time in the forest (not necessarily exercising), is linked to improve natural immunity cell function, blood pressure, sleep, anti-anxiety and more benefits that we have still not come to understand as of yet.

In many countries where preventative and primary care is strongly developed, many physicians actually prescribe their patients “time in the forest”. The positive effects of shinrin-yoku “forest bathing” seemed to last for several weeks after the time in the forest. There is certainly something primordial about reconnecting with the earth by spending time in the forest. Have you ever stared at a tree, it’s trunk and it’s branches and wondered how this shape came to be? This branching shape is ubiquitous to everything that is life. In the human body for instance, the blood vessels that course through our lungs (pulmonary artery tree) and through our eyes (the retinal vasculature) share the same branching shapes. The rivers that flow through our land are another example. This arterial network throughout the earth and life is truly amazing.

For our children, they are truly in their element in the woods. Chasing the sounds of the bull frogs, the woodpeckers, the wind through the trees, watching them marvel at everything is a joy. Pocahontas also has a pretty amazing nature center, where children can learn about rocks, live animals (snakes and snapping turtles), furs, campsites, camp gear, and loads more. We also visited the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) museum for the first time. They all had a blast. I’m hoping the effects of shinrin-yoku linger till our next trip back outdoors. I wish everyone good health and be safe when exploring.

The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) was a voluntary government work relief program that ran from 1933 to 1942, initiated by Franklin D. Roosevelt. They helped to establish many parks such as Pocahontas State Park. We are grateful for their efforts and foresight to allow future generations to enjoy these treasures.
Interesting video about the Civilian Conservation Corps

Winter hike on Beaver Lake

It is hard to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has raged on for more than 10 months in the United States. As the cold winter days settle in, there is no sign that this virus letting up either. As the air becomes drier and people are forced to spend more time indoors, the number of cases have skyrocketed. Hope arrived several weeks ago, with the first vaccinations administered to health care workers – our first solid foothold in this war. I was fortunate enough to get the first of the two part vaccinations, 3 weeks ago at my hospital. My reaction was similar to my flu vaccinations, I had mild chills for a couple days but otherwise bounced back quickly.

As I reflect on the past 10 months, there is no doubt this has been a difficult time for everyone in the world. During this trying time, it is no surprise to me that this pandemic has also taken a toll on mental health. Families and friends are separated and the feeling of loneliness and anxiety can naturally settle in. Everyone has their own way of finding center, of recharging and being uplifted. For myself, it has always been the outdoors.

In the winter, getting outside has its obstacles. But there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear. For us, getting outside is a priority and to let the kids run and explore new lands. Everything is a little slower in the winter, so we prepared for that – waking up just a little earlier, bundling up on more layers and packing the right food and snacks.

Our closest state park is the good ol’ dependable Pocahontas State Park. We wanted to hike the Beaver Lake Trail once again. The last time we took on this short 2.4 mile hike was in the summer of 2019.  In the afternoon, it was going to reach a high of 46F with plenty of sun. I was surprised at how quiet the trails actually were. Breathing in the crisp, cool air while hiking under towering white oaks and sycamore trees was something that I missed. The trail certainly looked different without the foliage. It definitely sounded different, the chirping of birds cut through the bare forest, the snaps of twigs and sticks under our feet seemed to echo just a little louder.

It all felt good. The gentle wind on the face, the  slight chill through the body, the movement of muscles, the sunlight, and the calming sight of a bare lake in the winter made everyone feel better.

Whatever it is that gets you to center, I hope you get to do more of it. Don’t forget to check on family and friends that might be more prone to loneliness or depression, a phone call or video chat goes a long way these days. I hope everyone stays healthy and safe. Vaccines are on the way. We shall prevail.

Pocahontas State Park – Chesterfield, Virginia

Pocahontas State Park Map of facilities. Beaver Lake trail, 2.3 mile loop.

A short 24 minute drive from Richmond, Virginia will get you into the tranquil and densely wooded areas of Pocahontas State Park. It is a fantastic escape from the noise and grind of the city. Over the past few years, we have actually made several trips to Pocahontas although I truly didn’t appreciate all of it’s offerings until now when we are tripping with a toddler. Pocahontas is a very well kept park providing a plethora of activities for everyone to enjoy.

I thought that we had gotten through the hottest days of Virginia summer but sure enough, I was wrong. Here we are, the 17th of August with temperatures still in the 90s F. We were getting stir crazy indoors and wanted to get moving. We set out to hike the 2.3 mile loop around Beaver Lake in Pocahontas State park. The only way to do this, was early in the morning, before the sun was at full strength.

His first canoe trip – October 2019

Winter forest hike – Jan 2020

Beaver Lake – July 2018

Maiden voyage out on Swift Creek Lake in Pocahontas State Park, VA March 2016

WInter hike – January 2021

Most of the Beaver Lake Trail is under the thick canopy of the forest so we were actually all quite comfortable. We were also blessed with an early morning of overcast and fog. The trail is relatively flat with very minor elevation changes. Our son has a taken a great liking to the Kelty Kids backpack carrier. It was a little too comfortable and he actually took a nap in it.

The water lillies were in full bloom

Lilly pads

Other activities at Pocahontas include, camping, bike riding, water recreation area as well as plenty of good water for paddling. There is also an excellent nature center with a kids play area. We only had a couple of hours to spend here but will be back to take him to the water play area. Pocahontas is certainly an awesome place for anyone to explore nature….whether it be on foot, bicycle or canoe.