Friday, May 18, 2018

The Path from Drought to Shinrin-Yoku

My husband and I watch in disbelief the televised scene on the evening news: an occasional cow roaming cracked, dusty, desolate terrain, a dusty bowl that until recently held the blue waters of Laguna Aculeo.

We’d enjoyed going there to the lakeside home of friends, our country escape from the sizzling heat of the city. Along the way we saw farmers selling watermelons piled high in roadside wheelbarrows. Handmade signs advertised fresh, homemade bread. We spent refreshing afternoons savoring the barbequed fare and relaxing on the wide lawn where kids romped, followed by a swim in the lake. For decades the small lake attracted enthusiasts of water sports: skiing, sailing, speed boating. Growing numbers of vacation homes began to populate its shores, each surrounded by lush lawns and aquamarine pools.

 Now there’s no water for gardens, pools or boats. No water for watermelon vines.

I read in the newspaper the politicians’ and experts’ speculations regarding the causes of this disaster: years of scarce rainfall, over consumption on farms and vacation home and illegal commercial use of subterranean waters. To me it smacks of lack of planning originating in the general belief that the earth’s resources are there for the taking. Aculeo’s dry lakebed is climate change thrust into our faces.

Now people are paying attention.

I see glimmers of hope beyond the dark gloom of drought and careless overconsumption. This week local supermarkets will no longer hand out plastic bags to shoppers. Other cities throughout Chile have already adopted the no plastic bag policy. The newly passed Law of Recycling proposes to regulate the use of plastics and move Chile towards a circular economy. Perhaps a turning point in attitudes here have been the shocking newspaper photographs and televised scenes of massive islands of plastic floating in the ocean

Neighborhoods are actively looking to create more parks and green areas. Residents of three residential downtown towers are dismayed by the filth and graffiti of the elevated pedestrian walkways connecting the towers. The disgusting sight has motivated students and architects to create a group dedicated to the restoration of this space using the High Line Park of New York City as a model. I’ve walked the elevated Highline Park, marveling at the bees and butterflies visiting the lush gardens there in midtown Manhattan, and would love to see it replicated in Santiago.

I’ve long known what research now shows that access to green areas improves the overall quality of life for residents. I have access to several city parks, though barely within walking distance. Besides, decades living in a big city plagued by smog, congestion and noise make me want more than a park. I want a forest. I yearn for place to practice the Japanese tradition of shinrin yoku, forest bathing, where I can sit below a tree and inhale its fresh, pungent breath, soak in the silence and allow my body to acquire a forest rhythm. Now for a good rain.