SHINRIN-YOKU by Ron Hickerson


Craving distraction from electronic communication – bright screens, phone

Pings and notifications – I leave my desk and step into the

Natural light, shedding the fluorescents that, I swear, bring out the purple

Tones in my complexion. My feet bring me to the brick road that winds

Through history – a story of conflict, war, secession, loss, recapture,

And, surprising unification. It’s easy to forget this

Tale as I neglect to exit my burrow, opting to fight screens with more

Screen time – fire with fire – to drown out overstimulation

With stimulation from another source, an imitation of quiet.

Pondering this leads me to my first stop: the old guardhouse, now a

Museum where the archaeology lab unearthed and displayed cloudy glass

Bottles of vanilla extract that young soldiers consumed without

Baking first, getting lit off cooking ingredients to distract themselves

From the monotonous task of protecting the spoils of war –

Ammunition, weapons, and powder – shut up in a strange pantry, lest their

Brothers rise again to steal the stale gray lead meant for fresh blue hearts.

I wonder if the extract was genuine, steeped tropical seed pods, or

Imitation – wooden vanillin. Either way, it got you drunk.


Deep down, I know it’s not distraction I want. I’m really looking for peace,

What Berry calls the Peace of Wild Things and the Japanese call

Forest-Bathing, and this is the closest I get to a forest – treading

The brick road. Leaving the guardhouse, I walk under emerald arms

Arching the path and lending shade. The branches nudge me to an arsenal

Entering its third century. Decommissioned, painted cannons

Serve as reminders that these yellow brick walls have seen wars and heard

Rumors of wars before they came to rest. Now they circle green space –

A place of quiet amid administrative buildings, overrun by

Ancient trees: magnolias, cedars, laurels, sycamores, and oaks

Dropping their acorns that roll across the ground – replacing ammunition

Dropped during casting. Where the seeds stop, saplings sprout, leaves stretching out

To find the light. A place of deadly chemistry transfigured, witnessed by

The elder trees. I reach out to touch them and try to absorb the

Stillness locked within their tough skin – fingertips searching, like root tips seeking

Nitrogen or new rains. I pause, my young palm on old trunk, and breathe.

Ron Hickerson is an academic advisor where he helps college students navigate the murky waters of academia.

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