Last week felt a month long! My husband was away all week and my daughter and I had several commitments every day. The week was filled with emotional highs and lows. So, when the weekend arrived we knew we needed to do something to recharge our batteries and reconnect as a family. That was when I suggested, “Forest Bathing!”
“Forest Bathing” is not what you are thinking. It does not involve nudity, nor soap or even water. “Forest Bathing”, also known as Shinrin-Yoku, is an ancient Japanese form of healing which involves spending extended time around trees. The idea is simple: if a person merely visits a natural tree filled area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved. This was exactly what we needed!
Deciding where to spend our zen filled afternoon became a challenge. The park near our home, although close seemed too basic. We walk around that loop daily and we wanted something different. Since we hike and bike often each of us has a favorite trail; however, the day was passing us by so we knew we needed to choose a destination that would not take hours to get to. That’s when my husband suggested Jockey Hollow. Jockey Hollow, located in Morris County and part of the National Park Registry, is both historically important and visually beautiful. It was used as a winter encampment by the Continental Army during the American Revolution from December 1779 to June of 1780. I hadn’t been to Jockey Hollow since I was in grade school and I’m embarrassed to say our daughter had never been. Jockey Hollow suddenly became the perfect choice!
We arrived at the visitor center ready to explore. We found an eager park ranger willing to answer any questions and explain the significance behind what we would see. Within the visitor center there are clean bathrooms, a small gift shop and several indoor exhibits that help bring history to life. Eager to begin our “Forest Bathing” we headed straight for the outdoors. The trails here are wide and beautiful. Though they are hilly, they are filled with native trees, a plethora of beautiful wildlife and sprinkled with babbling brooks. Historical notes are displayed at significant places throughout the trail. Visitors can explore historical homes and gardens and even chat with docents who are dressed in historical costumes and ready to share fascinating tales of the past. Trails vary in length from 1 mile to 6 miles and all of them are clearly marked. This is truly a perfect place for a family to spend a spring day.
On this day, we hiked along the trail that led to the soldier huts. First, we passed the Tempe Wick home along with the Wick garden. As we walked I entertained my family with the legend of Tempe Wick, the feisty 18th century Jersey girl who hid her beloved horse in her bedroom to protect it from being stolen by the soldiers. We also explore the Wick kitchen garden which was already blooming with broccoli and a variety of herbs. We trekked on to the soldier huts and imagined what it must have been like for the men who sought shelter there during the cold winter of 1780, living with very limited supplies as they fought for what they believed. Conversation ebbed and flowed as each of us inhaled the wonders of nature. There was a peacefulness along these trails and with each step I began to really believe the truth behind the concept of “Forest Bathing.” It was good for our bodies as well as our souls. We had achieved our goal and reconnected after our hectic week.
After stopping for water at the visitor center we departed Jockey Hollow with the notion that we would be back sooner rather than later. As we made our way to our next destination we found ourselves near one of my favorite sacred spaces, The Shrine of St. Joseph, 1050 Long Hill Road in Stirling, NJ. This beautiful oasis is a place that invites prayer and reflection. Visitors can walk outdoors among the religious statues, pray inside the chapel or reflect along a candle filled hallway. I have found myself drawn here many times over the years and I always leave feeling better than when I arrived. Having much to be grateful for as well as many to pray for, we stopped briefly as we continued the peaceful theme of our day.
Now that our souls were nourished, our bodies craved fuel. Lucky for us we were close to one of our favorite spots, the Stirling Hotel. Located at 227 Main Ave., Stirling, NJ. The Stirling Hotel is famous for their delicious burgers and wide selection of craft beers. Patrons have a choice of dining inside the cozy bar or outside on the covered patio area. We love to come here not only for the food and drink but because of the really cool outdoor spaces. Not only do they have the patio area but there is an outdoor bar with cozy nooks and crannies where fire pits invite friends to gather for a cocktail while waiting for a table. One of my favorite seasonal features at the Stirling Hotel is the beer garden which opens May 12. Here visitors will find yet another outdoor bar, shuffle board, horse shoes and tent covered picnic tables where one can linger and enjoy the great outdoors. It is always a fun time when hanging out in the beer garden. We were sad that the beer garden wasn’t open quite yet but were happy to enjoy the patio. I enjoyed a yummy Tree City Mule (featuring vodka made by some hometown Cranford fellas!!) and Bob had an IPA. Burrata crostini followed by their famous burgers made a perfect early dinner. We lingered over a second cocktail as we watched the patio fill up. A sighting of one of our favorite newscasters only helped to enhance our experience. She too seemed relaxed as chatted amiably with other guests as she and her family waited for a table. Our day spent in nature had a been a really good one and we were now refreshed and ready for the week ahead.