When I heard about shinrin-yoku, the Japanese practice of forest bathing, I was intrigued. A regular walker for many years, I’ve only recently begun exploring trails that don’t merely get me to the nearest park or to my library. And as the pandemic was raging on, the idea of spending restorative time in the wilderness made me want to take off for the woods. But where I live in Midwestern suburbia, forested areas aren’t exactly easy to come by.

When I did a little digging, however, I found shinrin-yoku is less about venturing into the backcountry and more about spending a little more time among the trees. The point is neither exercise nor outdoorsmanship, or even stress reduction (though these certainly can all be incidental benefits) but simply connecting with nature and practicing presence. When you walk outside—slowly, using all five of your senses—peace is almost inevitable.

The Beautiful Branches of Unity Village

Unity Village offers many places to accomplish this, the Carl L. Chinnery Nature Trail, Myrtle Fillmore Grove, and Lowell’s Garden Terrace among them. But even simply strolling from the Unity Village Hotel and Conference Center to the café and bookstore or making your way over to the golf course offers a reminder of how integral trees are to the landscape here—and to the feeling of serenity the campus is known for.

Even renowned 20th-century painter Thomas Hart Benton, who lived in Kansas City, was photographed sketching the apple blossoms in spring at Unity Farm in the 1930s. And though the farm’s fruit orchard is no more, many species of trees remain today that are well worth appreciating.

The northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) in Myrtle Fillmore Grove, for instance, commonly symbolizes mystery and healing. Its bark, heart-shaped leaves, and slender bean pods have historically been used for medicinal purposes—from poultices for skin abrasions to antidotes for snakebites.

Spruces, including the magnificent Norway spruce (Picea abies) near the entrance to the café and bookstore, are a symbol of resilience, strength, and even eternal life. In the 18th century, the British Royal Navy added spruce needles (high in vitamin C) to beer brewed on their ships to keep explorers from developing scurvy.

Often a symbol of abundance, generosity, and longevity, the red maple (Acer rubrum), like those that line the courtyard, is known for the deep red its leaves turn in the fall. Indigenous people used the tree’s inner and outer bark to treat a range of ailments, including aches and coughs.

The American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) carries on the ancient symbolism of sycamore trees around the world, dating back to Plato. Long held as a sign of protection and strength, sycamores are hardy and fertile, sometimes standing for centuries. You’ll find sycamores at various places around campus, including the start of the Carl L. Chinnery Nature Trail.

Many of the trees around the Village are best appreciated during the growing season, with flowering trees stealing the scene in spring and some of Kansas City’s best fall foliage appearing in the autumn. But the evergreens (and even the leafless deciduous trees) offer their own peaceful presence all year round.

This article appeared in Unity Magazine®.

About the Author

Mallory Herrmann is a writer and editor in the Kansas City area. Her work has been featured in Unity Magazine®, Career College Central, and the Lee’s Summit Tribune.


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