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You have undoubtedly discovered on your own the healing qualities of a walk in the woods, but it seems that increasing numbers of doctors are actually prescribing it.

Sarah Barker writes for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Your blood pressure is a little high. You could stand to lose some weight, and, yeah, you’re stressed. You leave the doctor’s office with directions to a park near your house and a prescription for 30 minutes a day out there breathing fresh air among the trees and the birds.

“Until recently, doctors encouraged patients to get more outdoor exercise but stopped short of writing a prescription. Soon, in collaboration with parks and trails organizations, community and athletic associations, some Minnesota doctors will be handing patients prescriptions for that dose of nature.

“ ‘The data is there. We’re wired to be connected to nature,’ said Dr. Brent Bauer of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. ‘Cool things happen when you’re exposed to nature for two hours a week — inflammation is reduced, stress, anxiety, heart rate.’ …

“Bauer founded Mayo’s complementary and integrative medicine program 20 years ago grounded in the theory of biophilia — that humans have an innate need to connect with nature. That people spend 90% of their time indoors, most of it sitting, has resulted in negative consequences: obesity, diabetes, anxiety, depression, to name a few. The last 10 years have seen a ‘scientification,’ as Bauer called it, of our need for nature. It’s been studied, measured.

“At the same time, there’s been a shift toward preventive medicine — lifestyle choices like food, exercise, spirituality — and efforts to make health care more efficient. There has been collaboration between communities that haven’t overlapped — parks and the Department of Natural Resources with public health; health insurance with health clubs; sports events with hospitals. Since 2010, doctors have worked with a nonprofit called Wholesome Wave to prescribe patients fruits and vegetables.

“Bauer signed on with one of those collaborations, Park Rx America, a national nonprofit established by Washington, D.C., pediatrician Dr. Robert Zarr in 2017. … According to Zarr, there are 22 registered Park Rx health care providers in Minnesota and 96 parks listed. …

“Receiving a nature prescription from your doctor here in Minnesota is still maybe a year away. Unless you’re a child. In which case, this is old news.

“Some Twin Cities children have been leaving the pediatrician’s office with a Sweat Rx since 2014. Sweat Rx was the first formal outdoor prescription program in the country, its creators say. … Betsy Grams and Tony Schiller co-founded CycleHealth as a way to improve kids’ health through training programs, activity challenges and fun adventure races. The events were outdoors, a little bit nontraditional (the triathlon is swim-bike-run with obstacles thrown in), and noncompetitive. …

“Focusing on health rather than competition was a natural tie-in to the medical community. Through a connection with one of the doctors, Grams and Schiller met with at Central + Priority Pediatrics in Woodbury in 2014 to talk about their upcoming kids’ triathlon. …

“ ‘We were really surprised when they said they would actually prescribe the triathlon to their patients that summer. We didn’t know how hungry doctors were for a concrete tool for encouraging kids to get outdoors, to live the lifestyle they’d been talking about,’ Grams said.

“The two quickly printed a prescription-ish pad of paper with a space for the patient’s name and a link to training materials and race registration. That was the start of Sweat Rx. CycleHealth now works with 52 pediatric clinics in the Twin Cities area. …

“Cheap, readily accessible, and side-effect free, Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes and vaunted parks and trails are shaping up to be, quite literally, what the doctor ordered.”

More here.

My husband and I are lucky with where we live because if you go in one direction out of the house, you come quickly to a busy village with a library and attractive shops. If you go the other way, you are in conservation land in no time. Best of both worlds.

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I finally got to this year’s Art Ramble in Concord’s Hapgood Wright Town Forest — site-specific creations from the Umbrella artists planted among fallen logs and leaves.

There were quite a few other visitors on the cold, sunny day. One couple shared a laugh about their madly yapping dog, who had been spooked by the recumbent figure of Thoreau in the woods. Another couple discussed with me the best way to avoid a shadow on the chicken-and-egg-sculpture. And a friendly woman who was a United Church of Christ minister and artist herself joined me for half the walk. We helped each other spot pieces that blended in so much with the surroundings that at first, when you saw a descriptive sign but no art, you would think the work had already been removed.

I particularly liked the tiny people — one hermit in contemplation under a root, others peeking out of the bark or cavorting on a dead log.

A man with a top hat and frog face was standing next to the pond — a Slavic water spirit and trickster that I am happy to know about.

My favorite this year was the spirit emerging from the earth at the base of a tree. At first I thought, Caliban, but then looked at his gentle face.

My report on the 2016 Art Ramble is here, and the one on the 2017 Art Ramble is here.

If you live in Massachusetts or are visiting Walden Pond, which is nearby, the Art Ramble is up until Nov. 30 this year. It will make you feel like creating some art yourself — especially with leaves and sticks and mud.

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As spring belatedly decided to show up in our neck of the woods, a Hollywood movie crew turned the town into a Christmas set, building a crèche in front of a picturesque church, decorating store windows with candy canes, snowmen, and plastic poinsettias — and spreading fake snow on lawns that had barely recovered from an April 1 blizzard. It was a little weird. One friend said she looked up from washing dishes at her kitchen window and saw what looked like a gigantic spaceship hovering over the trees. It was the boom for the cameraman.

In more seasonal news, spring flowers began to poke out. Woodland walks were taken. Mushrooms and lichens were admired.

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At first I saw no art. I didn’t enter the woods where the sign was, and I thought, “Maybe I have the wrong time.”

But the Hapgood Wright Town Forest is a work of art in itself, and I was up for a walk. The hilly pine-needle paths, the pond, the sounds of bullfrogs, wind in the trees, unfamiliar bird calls — all lovely. Then bit by bit, I began noticing pieces of art, part of the 2016 Art Ramble, which can be seen in the woods until September 5. How good of artists to do this!

The Umbrella Community Arts Center explains on its website, “This collaborative project with the Concord Department of Natural Resources celebrates all the arts. Sculpture, poetry, dance, and dramatic readings encourage the intersection of art, nature, and community in a historic natural setting.

“The arts offer a doorway for exploring our relationship with nature and place. An exhibit map will guide you through the exhibit at your own pace. And our calendar of special events and activities offers numerous opportunities to engage with the artists and with nature along the trails.

“We invite you to visit often, reflect, and play.  Share your experiences via writing and drawing in the journals provided along the trail.  Or make your own art using natural materials in the forest.”

[Nancy, this sounds like an event you organized last year.]

Curator Ursula Ziegler says, “It’s been a rumble-tumble-fantastic-interesting road, and it has already exposed us to so many interesting-important dialogues, thoughts, and ideas. Beyond the visible part of art works in a public space, there is an equally important but less visible part, which are the conversations, networks, and structures that are created within our local community and beyond.”

I took some pictures of ceramic toadstools, a QR code I don’t know how to use that would have identified an artist, sapling-like totems (or totem-like saplings), a small sculpture of a boy attached to a tree, fluttery dragonflies and the sign I missed on entering.

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Here is my latest photo roundup, but the picture I’d hope to start with will not appear.

I thought I was in the 1960s film Blowup. I spent ages (well, at least 30 minutes) zooming in on a photo I took of what I’m pretty sure was a bluebird. When I finally found the bird in the background of woodland twigs and leaves, he was so blurry I couldn’t use the picture to confirm the identification. So no photo of a bluebird for this post.

I have two other photos from walking in the town forest, one of Fairyland Pond and one of trail markers, including the Emerson-Thoreau Amble.

Next is my youngest granddaughter chasing a squirrel up a tree on Easter (love the shot my husband got). My oldest granddaughter is captured mid-Easter-egg hunt. The robin stayed stock-still for his portrait that afternoon.

The window fish was painted by my younger grandson at his Montessori nursery school. As usual, I couldn’t resist shooting shadows.

Now, about the shadows on brick. For nearly three months, until the moment when the sun shone through the alley (like the sun that shone on the keyhole to Smaug’s back door in The Hobbit), I thought the window in the renovated building was smack up against a wall and there was nothing to see there. What a lovely surprise!

I’m wrapping up today’s collection with a license plate from the Pawnee Nation. Since the Pawnee Nation is in Oklahoma and the car was in Providence, I’m intrigued and hope to learn more. Here’s the tribe’s website.

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An article by Gretchen Reynolds at the New York Times “Well” blog details new research on the stress-reducing effects of walking in nature.

Reynolds writes, “City dwellers [have] a higher risk for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses than people living outside urban centers …

“Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.

“But just how a visit to a park or other green space might alter mood has been unclear. Does experiencing nature actually change our brains in some way that affects our emotional health? That possibility intrigued Gregory Bratman, a graduate student at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University.

In his “new study, which was published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mr. Bratman and his collaborators decided to closely scrutinize what effect a walk might have on a person’s tendency to brood. … Such rumination [is] strongly associated with increased activity in a portion of the brain known as the subgenual prefrontal cortex.”

The results: “As might have been expected, walking along the highway had not soothed people’s minds. Blood flow to their subgenual prefrontal cortex was still high and their broodiness scores were unchanged. But the volunteers who had strolled along the quiet, tree-lined paths showed slight but meaningful improvements in their mental health, according to their scores on the questionnaire. They were not dwelling on the negative aspects of their lives as much as they had been before the walk.” More here.

As we used to chant to our overexcited dog when we picked her up after a grooming, “I’m calm, you’re calm.”

Try out this Derek Wolcott poem for your walk in the woods. It is read on SoundCloud by my husband’s college classmate, Jon Kabat-Zinn.

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As a kid of 10 or so, I played in the woods, frequently all alone. It was magical.

As an adult, I wonder if it’s no longer considered safe. I don’t ever hear of children playing in the woods. That’s why I was interested to read about a growing movement called Forest Schools.

Siobhan Starrs writes for the Associated Press, “In the heart of north London lies the ancient Queens Wood, a green forest hidden away in a metropolis of more than 8 million residents. The sounds of the city seem to fade away as a group of children plays in a mud kitchen, pretending to prepare food and saw wood.

“These aren’t toddlers on a play date — it’s an unusual outdoor nursery school, the first of its kind in London, following a trend in Scandinavia, Germany and Scotland. It allows local children to learn, and let their imagination run free, completely surrounded by nature. …

“Each morning a group of children gather at the Queens Wood camp, which the nursery team prepares each morning before the children arrive. A circle of logs provides a place to gather for snacks, stories and songs. The mud kitchen provides an opportunity to make a proper mess and have a sensory experience, a rope swing provides some excitement and a challenge, and several tents are set up for naps and washing up.

“In a clearing in the woods, a fallen tree trunk can be transformed by imagination into a rocket train, calling at the beach and the moon, with leaves for tickets.

“A 2-year-old, Matilda, finds a stick — but in her mind it’s not a stick. It’s a wand. She says she is a magic fairy who can fly. Then suddenly the stick has become a drum stick, and a gnarled tree stump her drum. She taps away contentedly, the rhythm all her own.” Read more here.

Speaking of fallen tree trunks, I particularly remember a big tree that fell in the forest after a storm and the fun a friend and I had making up stories on it.

Photo: Matt Dunham/AP
Forest schools are increasing in popularity in the United Kingdom.

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