Simply observe the fractals

said the woman schooled in forest bathing, midway through our tour of the trees of Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. Forest bathing sounds to me like a punchline.

Yet Instead of imbibing the 140 types of bourbon on the Galt House Hotel restaurant’s menu (that would come later, for some) we had embraced a different form of contemplation. The fall color here is much later here than home.

A lot of people on the tour already knew about forest bathing – these were attendees at the annual conference of the Society of Municipal Arborists, after all. But to relax your mind into the sumptuous urban forest of the cemetery was still a treat.

Hard to judge what was more spectacular, the trees or the funerary art.

For over 170 years, Cave Hill has interred members of the Louisville area. In 1848, it was founded as a rural cemetery, which meant that there was an irregular landscape – which you do notice today, as gauged by a lengthy walk along its winding roads, littered with leaves which howling leaf blowers had not yet blown away.

It became known in the mid-1800s as Louisville’s “City of the Dead.” During the Civll War both Union and Confederate soldiers were laid to rest here. Today it holds 140,000 “residents”.

As an arboretum, it excels, with over 10,000 plants and trees. A mammoth zelkova dominates one stretch.

Bald cypress with its sharp knees sticking up.

Talk about surreal, the fruit of the southern magnolia, also known as the bull bay.

People all around taking pictures of the beauty.

In one case the tree is taking over the granite.

Or the granite is taking over the tree.

Techniques of forest bathing are a little more complicated than simply closing your eyes and sinking back into a bubble bath. An expert, Dr Qing Li, published the bible for forest bathing. Our guide drew on its teachings, and also on the handbook, Your Guide to Forest Bathing, by M. Amos Clifford. Mysteries abound, like the osage orange fruit that must have rolled down a hill; its parent was nowhere to be seen.

Dr. Qing Li writes about being outdoors, “It is like an intuition, or an instinct, a feeling that is sometimes hard to describe. In Japanese, we have a word for those feelings that are too deep for words: yugen. Yugen gives us a profound sense of the beauty and mystery of the universe. It is about this world but suggests something beyond it.” Like this black walnut tree surreally  invaded by mistletoe.

What was more dazzling, though, was the self-guided tour I embarked on afterwards nominally led by a Davey business developer named Doak, whose company had done an extensive inventory of the place and who made sure we didn’t get lost.

I loved some of the granite sculpture.

An amazing combination of living and dead, an autumn sassafras leaf atop a loved ones headstone.

For some reason the cemetery is inordinately proud of its waterfowl. I’m not so sure geese should have the run of the property.

There is a tree the cemetery association likes to brag about, a 150-year old ginkgo that grew from a seed given them by Henry Clay.

Other jaw-droppers included the more delicate specimens like witch-hazel.

I found myself to be so relaxed after bathing among the doozies of Cave Hill that I welcomed a rest afterwards, missing the conference’s next event. My head swirled with images and I was sorry to live so far away from this majestic arboretum. I’d like another try at the fractals. And I’d like to go back for another look at that ginkgo. I hear that even though the tree is male, on the side I didn’t see an unusual female sport had emerged, and had dropped a pile of fruit at the tree’s mammoth base.

So much beauty. You didn’t need to bathe with water to see it.

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