Bellingham is surrounded by evergreen trees, flowing mountains and the bay. Nature is the Washingtonian’s backyard.
Living in the trees allows for many different excursions and experiences for the residents of Bellingham. Many different organizations offer outdoor lessons, hikes, walks and exploration events.
Wild Whatcom is one organization in town that has been offering environmental classes and field trips since 2004. They offer after school programs for kids as well as activities for adults, such as Ladies Night Out under the full moon and community field trips.
Their most popular program is their Explorers Club. Explorers Club starts with kids as young as 2 and goes up to age 12. As they get older, explorers build their skill sets and a respectful relationship with the environment.
“They’re learning that the plants that are around them are individuals, are people in a way, that deserve respect before we even worry about trying to take things from them to eat them,” said Daniel Brown, a mentor at Wild Whatcom.
Brown said nature is a place where he feels he can be silly and be his authentic self. He wants his explorers to feel the same way. He encourages them to get dirty and be one with nature, get comfortable in it and feel connected.
“When I’m outside, I feel more at peace than anywhere else. It’s like I’m back in my natural state where I’m supposed to be,” said Clara Johnson, a lover of the outdoors. Johnson participated in the Explorers Club with Wild Whatcom when she was younger.
It isn’t a surprise that going outside is proven to reduce feelings of stress and increase feelings of being grounded. A sense of connectedness with nature can help combat feelings of loneliness as well as increase mood levels.
April Claxton, a forest bathing guide, says we are lucky to live in such a nature-dense area. But because of how close the trees and plants are, people may take it for granted, always on the look for something better or new.
Claxton said being outside does not have to be an extravagant event. You can go touch a tree in a park, smell the moss, notice the little things, slow down. Even the five minutes you have between classes can be used to just pause and have a mini reset.
“Whatever you’ve got, it’s all valuable,” Claxton said.
When she leads forest bathing walks, she focuses on slowing down and using all of your senses — usually excluding taste unless you know what you are doing — to reset yourself. She likes to have her groups go slow through the forest with intent to be there. She encourages participants to get up close and notice all the little things.
“It’s almost a way to step back from everything that’s swirling around in the world, by going in really close, that focus shift to just little hidden bits of beauty, little forest magic,” Claxton said.
She hopes that by slowing down outside and noticing things they haven’t seen before, people will get to know nature more and want to take care of it and advocate for it. Nature is for everyone.
Sophie Bechkowiak (she/her) is writing for the opinion beat at The Front this quarter. She is in her fourth year at Western working towards a journalism news/editorial major and a philosophy minor. On her days off she enjoys thrifting, art, watching documentaries and goofing around with friends.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.