The healing power of trees

The Lorax famously spoke for the trees, and I wanted to share some information from a fascinating book I’m reading entitled “Forest Bathing: The Japanese Art and Science of Shinrin-Yoku” by Dr. Qing Li.

For centuries people have found restfulness and a sense of oneness with the universe from being in nature.  Poems and songs have been written, and the entire foundation of some companies like REI is to encourage people to get outdoors and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. 

Stress inhibits immune function and, because of this, we tend to fall ill frequently if we cannot get away from our stressors (work, school, other people, etc.) One of the ways the health of the immune system is tested is by looking at the activity of natural killer (NK) cells.  They are a type of white blood cell (WBC) that can attack and kill unwanted cells, which they do with the assistance of some proteins such as perforin, granulysin, and granzymes.  People with higher NK activity show lower incidence rates of cancer and other diseases.

Dr. Li discovered that after only three days and two nights in a forest, NK cell activity improved from 17.3% to 26.5%; NK cell numbers went up from 440 to 661 (a 50% increase!).  Dr. Li also writes that “the results showed that natural killer activity and the number of natural killer cells were significantly increased after forest bathing and that this effect lasted not just for seven days but for as long as thirty days.”

I’ve posted on this blog about hikes in and around Georgia, and I wanted to also share areas for forest bathing in and around the metro Atlanta area:

  • Check out the trails off Clifton Road at Emory University and Lullwater Preserve when studying for finals or just needing some time away from the office.  
  • There’s also Hundred Acre Farm in Madison, GA as well as multiple state parks including those near lakes or waterfalls.  
  • Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest has miles of trails and wooded areas to explore and enjoy.

Renewal by Nature can set up a private or group walk for you and your friends and family.

Vickery Creek Trail on a lazy Sunday afternoon

On a cloudy Sunday, two of my friends and I met at Old Mill Park for an afternoon hike.  It turned into one of the best days since this pandemic started. 

Old Mill Park is located off GA 400 in Roswell, Georgia, about 20-30 minutes from Atlanta.  The photo above is of the pedestrian bridge that connects the 4.7 mile trail to the ruins of the old Roswell Manufacturing Company Mills.  It’s a very popular spot for photographers; we saw a few senior class photos, some engagement shoots and family portraits, and a bride in her wedding gown this afternoon.

Part of the area near the pedestrian bridge is paved, and is a haven for families and dog walkers.  There’s also a Little Free Library there, so feel free donate any used books that you want to part with.  The spillway near the Roswell dam was open, and water gushed into Vickery Creek, creating brownish-colored rapids and some waterfalls.  The paved walking area also features remnants of the old millworks, which are surprisingly well preserved.  

The hike in the woods was relatively uneventful. My friend had some retractable walking/hiking poles, which are recommended since the trail is relatively flat but does have some wooden and rocky areas the further you do into the forest.  Fall color was barely touching the trees; some gold and red, but mostly green for now.  I’d also recommend a decent pair of hiking boots or sneakers, like the ones Adidas makes.  Sneakers will work, but the Georgian red clay that covers the forest floor was slippery.

We did see a white-tailed deer and other hikers with dogs, as well as a trail runner.  We also sang Broadway show tunes, thanks to my friend’s playlist.  After we completed 3.5 miles, we decided to head back to our cars and look for food. We discovered a great little Cuban restaurant called Lazaro’s Cuban Cuisine and were entertained by our waitress, Barbara.  She was really friendly and funny; we had a fried yucca appetizer and Bohemia beer along with water.  They have indoor and outdoor seating, which helped since I had brought my husky, Emma, with me on the hike.  

The food was amazing.  I had a spicy shrimp creole dish with a tomato-based sauce along with plantains and black beans and rice.  We had flan, guava pastries, and tres leches cake for dessert.  All in all, for a day that I could have spent indoors with Netflix or books, it was great to get outside and enjoy spending time with my friends and with nature.  

Hiking Chicopee Woods on a perfect autumn day

Ever taken a walk in the woods where the only sounds were your breathing and the crunching of leaves underneath your feet?  That describes Sunday, when I took my trusty husky, Emma, out for a walk at Chicopee Woods in Flowery Branch, right off Atlanta Highway.

View from the Dodd Trail, Chicopee Woods Trail System

The sun was high and fall was barely in the air, with only a few trees showing gold and red colors.  All trails are marked, and there are three: the easiest is the paved Geiger Trail, which leads directly from the Nature Center.  It’s perfect for parents, as there are signs with illustrations from a children’s book along the trail.

The trail we took is the Dodd Loop, which is 0.64 miles and marked red on the trail map system.  It winds through Walnut Creek Valley and there are a couple of places with stones steps that take you to the water’s edge.  

The longest trail is the Bridge Loop, which is nearly 3 miles and marked green.  It’s a moderately hard trail that’s accessed from the Elachee Visitor Center parking lot and travels through Piedmont forest.  There are five bridged stream crossings on the trail, including a 140-foot-long suspension bridge.  

Walnut Creek, Chicopee Woods Trail System

You can download and use the Avenza Maps app to see your location on the trails by using their GeoPDF map on your device.  You can also use US Topo Maps (get the app here:

If you’re interesting in learning more about Georgia hikes, pick up this guidebook ( by Tim Homan.

Skidaway Island State Park

Skidaway Island State Park

When you’re in Savannah, you can visit Skidaway Island State Park, which offers hiking trails and camping grounds.  It borders Skidaway narrows, part of the Intracoastal Waterway in Georgia.  Hiking trails wind through both maritime forest and salt marsh.  There is a boardwalk and observation tower, and some of the wildlife in the park include deer, egrets, herons, fiddler crabs, and raccoons.

We hiked Big Ferry Trail and Sandpiper Trail, both of which are nearly level.  There are live oak, palm trees, and pine trees, many of which have Spanish moss draped across their branches.  Saw palmetto plants also grow along the trails.  Big Ferry Trail leads to a boardwalk where the observation tower is located.  It’s a moderately easy hike of about 2.6 miles total.  

The plants pictured above are Saw palmetto, a palm-like plant that grows like a tree or shrub in warm climates and can reach heights of up to 10 feet with clusters of leaves spreading out to 2 feet or more.  You can also start with the Big Ferry Trail and loop around for 4.2 miles via the Sandpiper and Avian Trails.  All are dog-friendly, but be sure to use sunscreen if you’re hiking in the summer and bring plenty of water and snacks.  Plan on bringing insect repellent if you’re hiking in the summer as well; I’ve always liked Avon’s Skin So Soft.