The Treefest Walks

The Treefest walks are part of a £14.5m research quest investigating how to secure public benefits from forested landscapes. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

When is a walk in the woods more than just a walk? One answer might be biophilia, for starters. Our thanks to Miles Richardson for his work and to Patrick Barkham, as per his usual breadth of attention, for bringing another important story to our attention:

‘I’m glowing’: scientists are unlocking secrets of why forests make us happy

Research project aims to discover how age, size and shape of woodlands affect people’s happiness and wellbeing

Miles Richardson is gathering data from the Treefest research walks to examine how biodiverse spaces benefit wellbeing. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

How happy do you feel right now? The question is asked by an app on my phone, and I drag the slider to the space between “not much” and “somewhat”. I’m about to start a walk in the woods that is part of a nationwide research project to investigate how better to design the forests of the future.

Volunteers are being sought to record their feelings before and after eight walks on a free app, Go Jauntly, which could reveal what kind of treescapes most benefit our wellbeing and mental health. Continue reading

Walking, Rights & Ways


Going for an unremarkable walk in the English countryside has a lot in common with other old British freedoms. Everyone swears by it, though no one knows quite how it works. Photograph by Education Images / UIG / Getty

As someone who walks 5-10 miles most days, I am always looking for new things to think about, or to pay attention to during my walking. In the olden days I was left to my own thoughts and in recent days I am podcast-fueled. But some days I resist the earbuds and instead focus thought on a particular thing. One of my favorite pathways through the mountains where we live was fenced off in recent years, which already was on my mind before reading the article below. And I love the idea of an unremarkable walk, which my daily walks are, except that I have gotten to know most of the families who live in the mountains near us only by walking and having the chance to say hello. Which is a remarkable side benefit of trying to live now without owning a car. Thanks to Sam Knight for this other perspective on how to think about this thing:

The Search for England’s Forgotten Footpaths

Nineteen years ago, the British government passed one of its periodic laws to manage how people move through the countryside. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act created a new “right to roam” on common land, opening up three million acres of mountains and moor, heath and down, to cyclists, climbers, and dog walkers. It also set an ambitious goal: to record every public path crisscrossing England and Wales by January 1, 2026. The British Isles have been walked for a long time. They have been mapped, and mapped again, for centuries. But that does not mean that everything adds up, or makes sense. Between them, England and Wales have around a hundred and forty thousand miles of footpaths, of which around ten per cent are impassable at any time, with another ten thousand miles that are thought to have dropped off maps or otherwise misplaced. Finding them all again is like reconstructing the roots of a tree. In 2004, a government project, named Discovering Lost Ways, was given a fifteen-million-pound budget to solve the problem. It ended four years later, overwhelmed. “Lost Footpaths to Stay Lost,” the Daily Telegraph reported. Since then, despite the apparent impossibility of the task, the 2026 cutoff has remained on the statute books, leaving the job of finding and logging the nation’s forgotten paths to walkers, horse people, and other obsessives who can’t abide the muddled situation. Continue reading

Walking In Wildness, For The Sake Of The World

PreservationThis book to the left, first published the year I was born, was always on the coffee table in the home I grew up in. I have mentioned a high school exposure to Walden–the writing, the place, the idea–and I have been thinking about that recently as I ponder Chan Chich Lodge’s own little aquatic wonder. Thinking, of course, while walking, frequently encountering living relics of prehistoric wildness on those walks. Douglas Brinkley’s tribute to the legacy of Thoreau–the walker, thinker, writer, conservationist–as we approach the bicentennial of his birth a few days from now, is perfectly timed: Continue reading

Adapting to Change

The jungle is constantly changing. Large mammals break through low growing plants, fungi break down fallen material, and birds, insects, and monkeys are constantly roaming about the canopy.

The most recent edition of the Chan Chich trail map was produced in 2006. However, since then, the wildlife has continued to go about its business making small modifications to the landscape over the past eleven years. Not to mention, the occasional tree fall from storm interrupting the balance. As a result, because of the organic, unpredictable movement of nature, this map isn’t as accurate as it was a decade ago. Now, Alana and I undertaking the task of updating the maps to reflect how the trails look now.

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Reimagining Trees


“When I say, ‘Trees suckle their children,’ everyone knows immediately what I mean.” PETER WOHLLEBEN Credit Gordon Welters for The New York Times

There is an article in the Saturday Profile section of the New York Times this weekend that catches my attention for reasons made obvious in these pages since 2011. Thousands of posts about community, collaboration and conservation, many of which have dealt with the importance of forests. But it most importantly reminded me of a conversation I had with a couple who visited Xandari Costa Rica last year. We had trekked together in the forest reserve, all the while discussing our mutual interest in the concept of biophilia, which has been covered plenty in these pages.

Among other things I recall from that strolling conversation was each of us sharing experiences from years earlier that had caused us to rethink the simple pleasure of a walk in the woods, to consider “what a walk in the woods does for us.” Of course, the simple pleasure is still there, but understanding biophilia can intensify the pleasure of a walk in the woods. And then, if we take it a step further, or deeper, it then causes us to consider the importance of forest conservation, and our prospective roles with regard to conservation.

Those conversations with guests are essential components of our work, so (shout out to Andrew and Holly included) I recommend this article for reminding me…:

…After the publication in May of Mr. Wohlleben’s book, a surprise hit titled “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World,” the German forest is back in the spotlight. Since it first topped best-seller lists last year, Mr. Wohlleben has been spending more time on the media trail and less on the forest variety, making the case for a popular reimagination of trees, which, he says, contemporary society tends to look at as “organic robots” designed to produce oxygen and wood. Continue reading

Ambling, Thinking, Progress



We are all for it.  We post here about walking frequently for a reason. When travelers join us, whether in Africa, Latin America or Asia there is a common thread in conversations about their journeys, with walking be essential to the value of the experience of new places. Otherwise, it is just site-seeing. This New Yorker post expands on the theme well, linking walking to thinking, which we stretch to imply (for our own work) the source of progress:

In Vogues 1969 Christmas issue, Vladimir Nabokov offered some advice for teaching James Joyce’s “Ulysses”: “Instead of perpetuating the pretentious nonsense of Homeric, chromatic, and visceral chapter headings, instructors should prepare maps of Dublin with Bloom’s and Stephen’s intertwining itineraries clearly traced.” He drew a charming one himself. Several decades later, a Boston College English professor named Joseph Nugent and his colleagues put together an annotated Google map that shadows Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom step by step. The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, as well as students at the Georgia Institute of Technology, have similarly reconstructed the paths of the London amblers in “Mrs. Dalloway.” Continue reading

Competitive Upright Bipedalism

We are in awe about how many things we find out, on a daily basis, we did not know.  And for the things that we realize we want to know more about, thank goodness for longform writers of the quality that the New Yorker staff has consistently fielded since its founding. One of the great essayists of our time reviews recent writings on a history we had not the slightest clue about:

Why people walk is a hard question that looks easy. Upright bipedalism seems such an obvious advantage from the viewpoint of those already upright that we rarely see its difficulty. In the famous diagram, Darwinian man unfolds himself from frightened crouch to strong surveyor of the ages, and it looks like a natural ascension: you start out bending over, knuckles dragging, timidly scouring the ground for grubs, then you slowly straighten up until there you are, staring at the skies and counting the stars and thinking up gods to rule them. But the advantages of walking have actually been tricky to calculate. One guess among the evolutionary biologists has been that a significant advantage may simply be that walking on two legs frees up your hands to throw rocks at what might become your food—or to throw rocks at other bipedal creatures who are throwing rocks at what might become their food. Although walking upright seems to have preceded throwing rocks, the rock throwing, the biologists point out, is rarer than the bipedalism alone, which we share with all the birds, including awkward penguins and ostriches, and with angry bears. Meanwhile, the certainty of human back pain, like the inevitability of labor pains, is evidence of the jury-rigged, best-solution-at-hand nature of evolution. Continue reading

Xandari’s Rivers and Waterfalls

At waterfall #4, with morning sun coming through. (Photo credit: S. E. Inman)

Seth recently posted about Xandari’s forest trails, so I thought I would follow up with another post on one of the forest’s best features, the river running through it. The small river that winds along the edge of Xandari—indeed, forms the resort’s southern boundary—is home to five waterfalls. Although they are no Niagara Falls, they are still well worth the trip down to see them, especially the Gran Catarata (“Grand Waterfall”). There, the water is funneled through a narrow channel before falling over fifty feet into a small pool. Because the water flows west, the sun always rises from behind the waterfalls (east); the result is some pretty spectacular displays of light as the sunbeams form a kind of a halo around Continue reading

Superior Urban Design, Superior Health

Excerpted from Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design by Charles Montgomery, published in November 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2013 by Charles Montgomery. All rights reserved.

Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design by Charles Montgomery, published in November 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2013 by Charles Montgomery. All rights reserved.

The text below is excerpted from the book above (click above to go to the source), and we thank Slate for publishing what amounts to a public health announcement disguised as a commentary on urban design.  Because several of Raxa Collective’s contributors and more than a few of those who follow this blog have lived in, worked in or gone to school in Atlanta the case study here hit home to more than one of us:

…Of every 100 American commuters, five take public transit, three walk, and only one rides a bicycle to work or school. If walking and cycling are so pleasurable, why don’t more people choose to cycle or walk to work? Why do most people fail to walk even the 10,000 daily steps needed to stay healthy? Why do we avoid public transit? Continue reading

Hermes, Circa 1969

As one of the contributors referred to in this post, and as the one who took the photographs in that post, it occurred to me that I should comment further on the reference.  And in doing so, perhaps I could add to the small collection of personal statements that have been gathering on this site since mid-2011.  I am 100% sure I took the photograph above during that same visit to Greece in 2008.  As I snapped this photo my mother was at my side and we both remembered having stood in the same spot in 1969. Continue reading

Cochin : exploring Mattancherry

Wandering around Mattancherry  : the vibrant murals covering the walls of Mattancherry Palace as well as each and every street; Dockers carrying sacks of produce urging you to move out of the way; Those boats that look more like works of art…not to mention the art installations on the docks… The streets that surround Spice Harbour, a development Raxa Collective is currently working on, are full of colours, spices and, yes goats… Continue reading

Walk The Walk

Click the image above to go to the thought piece.  It got us thinking that sometimes we can only talk the talk; other times we make the effort to at least talk the walk; on a good day we walk as we talk; but on the best days we walk the walk:

For 44 days, I walked El Camino de Santiago de Compostella. “The way to Santiago along the field of stars.”

The standard icebreaker along the dirt path is simply, expectedly, “Why are you walking?” Continue reading

Finding History in High Tech

Bangalore city map, circa 1924 from “Murray’s 1924 Handbook”

Before a recent trip to Karnataka I’d asked my Indian friends for advice prior to any urban travels, getting their opinions on the iconic activities in each of the cities on my itinerary.  There were pearls and biryani in Hyderabad, palaces and markets in Mysore…but for Bangalore, most friends said things such as, “Oh Bangalore. That’s where people from Cochin go to get their shopping done.”

Well, okay.  Considering I actually did need to get some shopping done, I wasn’t terribly distressed about this advice. However, the fact remains that I am not a particularly good shopper, so I’d hoped that there was more to the city than just consumer attraction. Continue reading

Green Walk

There is nothing quite like waking up in the morning knowing that you are about to enjoy a beautiful hike through the incredible Periyar Tiger Reserve.  Sign up for the Green Walk and experience not only this wonderful feeling but also the sights and sounds that make Periyar so special.  A three-hour hike, the Green Walk takes you through some of the most amazing habitat the reserve has to offer.  With Great Hornbills flying overhead and langurs calling from the trees, the Green Walk is certainly a hike to remember.

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Happy Birthday Henry David Thoreau

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Lisel Ashlock

After coming across the Emerson item, and linking it to my own experience as a lapsed researcher, now entrepreneur, I went back and looked at some of the posts Seth wrote while taking coursework last autumn. The courses were remarkable for their relevance to what we do at La Paz Group: Environmental History; Environmental Archaeology; Ecology and the Environment; and Environmental Governance.  The history course, in particular, had a syllabus that I appreciated for acquainting or re-acquainting me with some of the roots of thought underlying my chosen occupation (whatever that is).

Now a few days later I have discovered that on today’s date in 1817 Henry David Thoreau was born.  A little more digging, and I see he serialized some of his writings in a magazine that still publishes today. He apparantly wanted his ideas spread as far and wide as technology would enable.  Surprisingly modern for a man who embodies “back to nature” more than most.  Would he have blogged in today’s world?

No need to speculate on silly questions: his writing speaks for itself. On June 1, 1858 he published his first of three tracts in The Atlantic Monthly.  It is a lovely meditation on the true nature of pine trees, poetic insight, and moose meat, among other things nineteenth-century.  Four years later to the day the same magazine posthumously (he had just died weeks earlier) published his second tract, called Walking, which has about as fine a statement as I can find anywhere: Continue reading

Wadi Dana – Valley of the Rising Sun

Jordan is a composite of valleys and gorges, gullies and canyons, gulches and sand. Dry, warm air is blown through every nook and cranny, a stark contrast from the moist, muggy air I’ve grown accustomed to breathing in the south of India the last two years.

In fact, the only real similarity between Kerala and Jordan in my mind is how different they are (if you have been to both and think they are birds of a feather, let’s agree to disagree) – particularly climatically. I took advantage of my enhanced ability to physically exert myself without rapidly dripping sweat as often as possible during my time at Feynan; I accompanied the guides on as many activities as possible, and also did a fair bit of hiking on my own.

One of my favorite (as well as most convenient) hikes was from Feynan up the first valley to the north-east: Wadi Dana. I spent at least 24 hours walking in this valley on my own – and probably nearly that long with guides and guests. It was a boon to watch the lodge’s Bedouin guides walking through the lands they grew up in, as well as learning about the area’s natural bounties from them; every hike yielded a treasury of information on goat udder infection remedies, headache alleviation; arthritis, diabetes, and chronic headache treatments – all sourced from plants that appear to an outsider’s eyes as weeds growing from the cracks in the mountain. I learned how to sanitize my hands with “Bedouin Soap”, how to find a decent snack when feeling peckish, and what type of branch to use to make a splint if one of your goats breaks its leg (although I wasn’t taught how to actually do so, I was in someone’s tent and watched it being done), as well as several other folk remedies and fixes based on native plant life. Continue reading

Sightings at Periyar Tiger Reserve

Ms. Rita & her colleagues (our current guests at Cardamom County) from Malaysia have shared some of their photos taken during the Nature Walk at Periyar Tiger Reserve.

I have visited Kerala every year for the past few years with my colleagues. This time we stayed at Cardamom County, where we scheduled a Nature Walk in the Periyar Tiger Reserve. We had some good sightings of  birds and animals. It was an excellent journey being in the forest with just the four of us and our forest guide. The guide seemed to be very experienced, giving information all along the path which we followed in Periyar Tiger Reserve. We also spotted little tadpoles. The guide informed us that it is the current breeding season for them. We enjoyed it a lot and hope for the same in future. – Ms. Rita

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