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.  

Tallulah Gorge and Falls

A series of four main cataracts at varying heights, Tallulah Falls has been a tourist favorite since the 1820s.  It has been dubbed the “Niagara of the South”.  The state park has some great hiking trails and you can get a permit to go to the floor of the gorge and do some kayaking.

Tallulah Gorge forms a natural boundary between two northeast Georgia counties, Habersham and Rabun.  Construction of a dam that eventually formed a lake was completed in 1913, but not without some controversy: environmentalist and wife of Confederate general James Longstreet, Helen Dortch Longstreet, wanted to make the area a state park.  She ultimately lost, but her campaign was one of the first conservation movements in the state of Georgia.  In 1999, the trail system around the park was formally re-named in her honor.

(Tallulah Dam, releasing water, fall 2018)

There are two primary trails around the gorge, one of which is associated with an interpretive center: the North Rim Trail and the South Rim Trail.  The North Rim Trail can be accessed from the parking lot at the interpretive center, and from the center itself.  There are a few stops along this trail, including one where an old, rusted tower appears. The tower was used by Kurt Wallenda in 1970 to cross the gorge.  

The trails are fairly easy, with the North Rim Trail having a few wrought iron steps as you get closer to the cataracts.  Pets are allowed on the trails, but must be leashed at all times.  

(Tempesta Falls, fed by Hawthorne Pool, which is in turn formed by Ladore Falls; near stops #2 an #3 on the North Rim Trail)

Tallulah Falls makes for a good day hike.  Be sure to stay hydrated; water filling stations are available.  Like Anna Ruby Falls, Tallulah Gorge State Park isn’t far from the town of Helen, so you can plan on stocking up on food and/or water there before your hike, or eating a delicious meal there afterwards.

Anna Ruby Falls

One of the easiest hikes in northeast Georgia lies near the town of Helen, which is about one to two hours north of Atlanta.  It’s called Anna Ruby Falls.  It’s a fairly simple hike, up one way to see the double waterfalls and down the other way.  The trail is completely paved.  Below are some pictures of the falls from a 2016 hike:

Anna Ruby Falls
Anna Ruby Falls
Part of the Anna Ruby Falls trail
On the trail to Anna Ruby Falls

The hike took me about an hour to complete, and it was crowded that day.  I’d recommend doing this hike first thing in the morning and then heading into nearby Helen for a day of shopping and sightseeing.

Helen, Georgia, is a small town designed to look like a Bavarian village.

A house with a mountain in the background

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Alpine Helen

Helen is a fun little town to spend the day in.  You can grab a quick bite at The Nacoochee Village Tavern and Pizzeria or have an elegant meal at Caladonia Dining Room (in the Valhalla Resort Hotel).  There are fun little shops to browse, including the Tim’s Wooden Toys, Wildewood, or Lindenhaus Imports.   End your day with coffee and homemade fudge or pralines from Kopper Kettle Fudge, on Helen’s Main Street.