By Tim Sandlin // Illustrations by birgitta sif
The problem kicked off when Juniper Walsowski-Smith asked her grandmother Heather Heidi for two-thousand dollars toward a certification in Forest Bathing.
Juniper was steeping fennel fronds in almost but not quite boiling water from Iceland, making a tea guaranteed to out-relax Xanax. She said, “I aspire to guide spirits into tranquility.”
Heather Heidi tossed a bar of Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap at her granddaughter. “Bathe in the forest with this. Cuts down on toe jam and saves two grand.”
Juniper wouldn’t touch the Castile. It was too harsh even for her fingertips. “We bathe ethereal cores in the forest, Grandma. Tree bark invigorates chi.”
Heather Heidi opened the refrigerator and pulled out a Red Bull. “Is your chi naked when you wash it in the woods?”
“Some choose to Forest Bathe nude. Personally, I wear Stio.”
Heather Heidi popped the top. “Last time I got naked in the woods I was your age. Came home with four ticks. Those buggers love damp and dark.”
Juniper said, “Ew, Grandma. TMI.”
Heather Heidi had no clue what TMI meant, so she plowed on. “What’s the difference between Forest Bathing and sitting on a rock next to a babbling creek, besides two-thousand?”
Juniper drew out the little wicker basket of fennel, leaving a lime Jell-O–looking liquid in the cup. “They’re nothing alike. Sitting on a rock leads to daydreams. When done with purpose, Forest Bathing blossoms into mindfulness.”
“That’s my second least favorite word, after karma. Why can’t you say ‘Pay attention’? I pay attention outdoors. Otherwise you step in a badger hole and break your ankle like your grandfather Clyde did in college when he went Forest Pot Smoking.”
Juniper sipped her tea, made a wrinkly face, and stirred in two tablespoons of locally harvested honey. “Mindfulness is absorbing your surroundings, soaking the very substance of the world into your blood. You never soak nature into your blood. You hike.”
“Okay, smarty-shorts, which needle makes better floss—spruce or fir?”
“Those are trees?”
“Your spirit guide can’t tell a lodgepole from a totem pole.”
“She concentrates on audio and odor, not artificial labels.”
“Can she smell the difference between bear and coyote poop? I can. I can tell you the gender of an elk at a hundred yards without seeing it.”
On this last rant, Clyde wandered into the kitchen, searching for food. He said, “Black bear poop has berries. Grizzly poop has tiny bells.”
Juniper ignored him. “I also need a trip to Japan. The authentic bathing forests are in Japan. That’s where haiku comes from.”
Clyde said, “There’s a national forest out the back door. You can stay home and still win the first-place trophy.”
Now, he’d hit on the current family sore spot. Juniper almost raised her voice, but, of course, she didn’t. “Forest Bathing is not competitive.”
Clyde stole Heather Heidi’s Red Bull. Couples who have been together for fifty years do that sort of thing, especially if the one doing the stealing is male.
“Nonsense,” Clyde said. “Everything in America is competitive.”
Clyde’s been taking a load of grief from his loved ones of late for signing up for a hiking contest. The winner has to have hiked every mapped trail in Grand Teton and Yellowstone, stopping for a selfie once a mile for authentication. All of it ends up on Instagram.
Competition hiking gets Heather Heidi so incensed that for the moment she forgot the Forest Bath.
“Walking in the mountains is the human way to touch God,” she said. “It’s spiritual. It’s not how we win a medal.”
Clyde chugged Red Bull. “At least I smell the rosehips. Randy Anders speed climbs. Fastest one from the car to the peak and back wins. He doesn’t even pretend to see nature.”
Heather Heidi made a tut sound. “That’s obscene. Some things should be done for inner grace. Not to beat your peers.”
Clyde either laughed or smirked. With him, it can be a trick to tell which is which. “There is no point in an action if you can’t win at it.”
“There’s folks making thousands of dollars catching and releasing fish, although trout pay a lot less than bass.”
Juniper said, “Mandy Jane is in Santa Barbara at a yoga meet right now. She aspires to be a master yogini.”
As usual, Heather Heidi was outraged. “Yoga is a practice, not a game. Competing goes against the whole spirit of being spiritual. It should be no more scored than singing in the shower or a detox body cleanse.”
“I’ll bet dollars to donuts there’s a detox circuit,” Clyde said.
“They’ll start meditation next.”
“That’s already a sport,” Juniper said. I’m thinking of trying out.”
“Meditation as sport?”
“They have one-on-one single elimination tournaments. March Mindfulness. The athletes wear brain-sensing headbands that pick up EEG brain waves. You get five minutes and the one whose machine registers the blankest is declared Mellowest Dude.”
Heather Heidi opened the refrigerator for another Red Bull. She protected it with both hands. “A prize for not thinking. Clyde would win that in a heartbeat.”
Clyde jumped on his phone to Google Things that shouldn’t be competitive but are.
“Here’s a Bible verse contest series. This one I’m reading about second place shot the winner.”
Juniper tossed her green tea down the garbage disposal and went for her own Red Bull. “I read about that. He said the winner cheated on Leviticus. Used an Alexa earpiece.”
“Here’s one that’ll set your receptors tingling,” Clyde said. “The Air Sex National Championship in Austin, Texas.”
Heather Heidi put her imagination at play but failed.
“Like Air Guitar, only . . .”
“I don’t want to know.”
“Says here Austin is the Air Sex capital of America.”
“Won’t the girls in Wilson be jealous.”
“Only rules are no nudity and you must have an imaginary person or object.”
Juniper wrinkled her nose. “Object?”
“And no real orgasms,” Clyde said.
Heather Heidi said, “How can they tell the difference? You never do.” JH