Embracing cultural shock, I’ve embarked on a journey to become an avid forest hiker
来源: 大中报 南茜(Nancy Jin)
Canada’s vast area of forest land seems both intimidating and fascinating for many newcomers. The ample green space provides access to nature, appealing to visitors with its remarkable beauty and tremendous benefits. But the mysterious ravine and forests are also intimidating, as rugged forest paths surrounded by dense bushes and trees seem to be a perfect place lurking with peril. Two years ago, I moved to a community in York Region with access to forest tracts. But the perceived danger had prohibited me from venturing into unfamiliar territory to discover the wild wonder.
For immigrants hailing from a country where parks and well-maintained green areas made up the tourist attractions, Canada’s wildlands present physical and psychological barriers. It stands a sharp contrast to our past outing places, where amenities – from seating and pavilion to water fountains and washrooms are the norm and where help and assistance are only steps away. The dark shadows under the forest trees, the eerily silence, occasionally disrupted by animal noises, and the dirt and mud paved paths seem frightening and may throw us off balance at any time. Apart from the attacks by wild animals and poison ivy, getting lost by wandering off the trail in the forest could cause panic moments of desperation and even impose life-threatening risks.
But for the local outdoor enthusiasts, the wilderness land seems a precious gift of God bestowed on human beings. They value the vegetation resources nature has to offer, calling the forests “hidden gems.” Tranquility and serenity flow into the summer canopy-covered zone, offering a complete escape from the hustles and bustle of daily life. In winter, the forest turns into the landscape for cross country skiers as massive snowfalls magically change the green space into a white paradise. The forests’ value to our physical and mental wellbeing is immense, offering remarkable benefits on human health that artificial green parks pale in comparison.
Forests’ ability to mitigate the effects of climate change has made it the most potent stabilizing force for the climate. Forests are the number two oxygen producers on earth, purifying air by filtering out pollutants as they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as by-products. They regulate the ecosystem, combating the process where carbon dioxide trapped in the atmosphere compounds the warming of our planet. They also provide a remarkable capacity to absorb sunlight as death-causing heatwaves hit our living environment, reducing peak surface temperature by 11-25C. Scientific reports have found that “the likelihood of reporting good health or high wellbeing became significantly greater among people spending at least two hours weekly in nature”.
However, studies have also shown that racial minorities are less likely than white to engage in outdoor activities – such as hiking and camping in the national parks or forests. Close to 70 percent of people venturing into the wilderness are white, despite people of color making up 40% of the US population. The participation rate by the Asian community stalls at 7 percent, compared to the 11 percent of blacks. The public health agencies urge the racialized communities to break down the barriers and increase interactions with nature.
Drawn by my innate desire to “get back to nature,” I made the first attempt to walk into the nearby forest a year ago, accompanied by my German Sheppard dog. Since then, the feeling of “forest bathing” has encouraged me to repeatedly step out of my neighborhood into the heavily wooded terrain. Now visiting the forest has become my never-missed daily routine. I am proud of my journey to become an avid forest hiker who faced her fears and embraced the culture shock.