Forest bathing

Matt Schofield

Matt Schofield | June 16, 2024

Forest bathing

A long-lost friend dropped by recently. Myka was in Berlin for a conference, and found herself with a free evening. We offered her a barbecue, a bed and a walk in the woods. Myka was thrilled.

Like us, she had bought a house on the edge of a wood. She loves forest-bathing, or walking away from car horns and sirens and the whirr and buzz of electric tools, is a wonderful way to stay sane in an often-insane world.

Claudia and I walk most days. I plot our walks against Frodo Baggins walk from the Shire to Mount Doom, to see how we might be progressing, were this Middle Earth. It’s just to add a bit of adventure to groves of oak and pine and beech.

Myka has a bit of an issue with her forest, these days, though.

While we both moved into our places near the forest back in 2020, there’s a difference. Our place is just outside Berlin, Germany. Her home is in Irpin, Ukraine, just outside Kyiv. In February, 2022, Russian troops, on tanks, rolled into her town, and across her lawn, through those woods. One parked, for days, just outside her door.

The home of one neighbor was flattened. Several others lost their roofs. The beautiful home, the one neighbors all envied, was seized by Russian officers to serve as their quarters and base of operations for the invasion of Kyiv.

As we walk, Myka explains that her home, which is far more modest, only took a single tank shell. A small section of the roof collapsed. There was a large hole punched through one wall.

Which got us to talking about home improvements. Don’t we all have projects? Here, Claudia and I had just had our electrical system replaced! And we pointed out that we had new windows in the room where she’d be sleeping. So, you know, we all have stories.

Myka’s home repair issues came after the Ukrainian military cut the Russian supply lines and ended the internationally infamous and excessively brutal occupation of her city, in which she estimates 500 civilians were murdered. At that point, she’d been able to return to her home, and managed to patch the hole from the tank shell. “It doesn’t look great, but when it’s properly painted, it won’t be so noticeable.”

The roof is covered, but fixing it requires working with a neighbor (it’s a duplex, so they share the roof) and the neighbor isn’t so sure they should fix it now.

“Who knows what happens next month. What happens if we spend our money to fix the roof and the Russians return?” he’d asked her. “They’d destroy our homes again, and we wouldn’t have the money to escape.”

She admits, before the invasion, she and her partner were considering buying a larger house. Now they realize that just means it’s more attractive during a military takeover, and if it isn’t seized, it means more to rebuild after the threat ends.

Not that the threat has ended. There are still missiles and drones overhead. As commercial flights have been cancelled, any sound from above causes her to flinch.

Of course, the forest is meant to cure that. But while the Russian troops are gone, they heavily mined the woods behind her home. There has been a lot of demining. There are some safe paths, she’s told, that have been cleared. But she doesn’t like to trust her 8-year-old son (named in honor of the son she had planned for with a former husband, who was killed by a Russian sniper back in 2015 near Donetsk) to play in the woods.

“He’s a boy. How can I expect him to stay on the marked trail?”

Myka had to leave the next morning, back to the conference, then back home. But she said she slept soundly at our home. It wasn’t so much the new windows, as it was no air raid sirens, and coming after a long walk in the woods, without fear.

A photo I took during the Russian invasion of Crimea, in 2014. Russia denied they had troops in Crimea, These Russians were not really sure where they were.

Get Our Weekly Digest

First thing every Saturday morning, you’ll receive a short digest of the week’s blog posts from Litopia’s team of writers… entertaining, thought-provoking, witty, diverse and often mind-expanding.

Start your weekend in style…sign up below!

You can unsubscribe whenever you want… but you won’t want to!