Forest Bathing poems by Betsy Hughes

picture of Betsy Hughes
Photograph by Matthew Hughes.  

David Lee Garrison writes that in Forest Bathing: Shinrin-Yoku, “the sonnets of Betsy Hughes take us all over the world, from antiquity to now, from the horrors of mass shootings to the serenity of a forest.  These journeys offer, in the elegant sweep of her verses, a captivating new vision of our environment and ourselves.  You will never look at things in the same way or feel the same way about your life once you read this book, for you will have traveled to the depths and the heights of the human heart.

After her graduation from Vassar College, Betsy Hughes taught English for two years at the Baldwin School for Girls in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, before moving to Ohio as a newlywed and becoming one of the founding faculty at the Miami Valley School in Dayton, where she taught for 30 years.  She earned her M.A. in English from the University of Dayton and, in retirement, returned to U.D. to moderate courses in literature, creative writing, and the arts for its Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.  Her passion for poetry has been fueled through these years as student, teacher, and participant in poetry groups.

  forest bating cover image
  Photograph courtesy of Getty Images.

Winner of the 2013 Stevens Poetry Manuscript Competition, Betsy’s first book of sonnets, Breaking Weather, was published by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies Press in 2014.  Her chapbook Bird Notes was published by Finishing Line Press in 2017. Her poems have also appeared in the Society of Classical Poets Journal, the Mad River Review, Mock Turtle Zine, and several anthologies published by the Ohio Poetry Association.  She is fascinated by the sonnet genre because of its inherent qualities of sound and rhythm and its wedding of discipline and freedom. Forest Bathing reflects her interest in the intersection of nature and human nature, as well as the use of the traditional sonnet form to explore contemporary issues.

Betsy and her husband Jim, a writer of free verse, live in Dayton.  They have two children, four grandchildren, and two granddogs.

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ISBN 978-1-943826-57-5
First Edition, 2019

5.5" x 8.5" paperback, 100 pages
This book can be ordered from all bookstores, including Amazon.



Copyright © 2019 by Betsy M. Hughes




A sensor in the postlamp signals On
as if this day could switch to night so fast,
as if diurnal acts abruptly gone
would turn to black inertness that will last.
But just before the darkness can descend
I sense a hush, a pause for vesper time.
I put away my business and suspend
my anxious disbeliefs, while calmly I’m
preparing for the mood of evensong.
I hunger for the holy, yearn to learn
the prayer which fills the thinning air, and long
to solve the mystery of my return.
The dimming light is dying now and yet
my gratitude for life exceeds regret.

The Atlatl

(“spear-thrower” in Aztec)


Just thirteen yards away the graceful deer
was eating leaves which dangled from a tree.
The Huntress of Missouri threw the spear
which whooshed so fast through air he could not flee
before six feet of sharpened bamboo dart
with metal tip had penetrated, stung.
It did not find the perfect place, his heart,
but surely it connected, punctured lung.
How proud she is of her barbaric skill,
her brutal tool, her power, thrusting throw —
first woman of our day to make the kill
like men eleven thousand years ago.
What fitting symbol for this modern age
when primitive behavior’s all the rage.

Forest Bathing:


Now stand beneath this canopy of trees,
surrender will, hold still. Now close your eyes
and listen as the rustling of the leaves
and lapping breeze-blown waters tranquilize.

Inhaling deeply, you can breathe the smell
of dew-damp soil, the scent of pungent pine,
organic emanations.  All is well,
you’re in the zone in nature’s forest shrine.

Permit your eyes to open and you see
the beauty of extraordinary things:
moss-covered rocks in shades of verdigris,
the damselfly’s extended filmy wings.

Immerse yourself in all your senses, feel
the peace of this retreat restore and heal.


In the Forests of Michoacan State


Monarchs by the millions migrate here.
From Canada to Mexico they fly
to reach the same location every year
for winter hibernation.  Do-or-die,
returning north the butterflies must breed
so that their offspring can complete the quest.
They lay their eggs on milkweed, where they feed.
But here and now they sun, drink nectar, rest,
survive on sanctuary rocks and cling
to fir tree branches, where they flutter-dance.
Bold lines of black on every orange wing
define the lepidopteran romance.
This is a delicate kaleidoscope
of shifting colors on the wings of hope.

Snowy Owl

The birders measure your enormous span
of wings: a five-foot spreading they declare.
They marvel how a migratory plan
can guide an owl through miles and miles of air.

All memory of lemmings, Arctic prey,
has vanished in these far Ohio fields
where, fearless, hunting openly by day,
you locate other predatory yields.

I know your stolid stance upon the pole
will change within an instant when your eyes
unlid their yellows to detect a vole;
then you will pounce and take it by surprise.

I keep my distance, stunned by snowy white.
You keep your wary watch in winter light.

Under the Shadow of the Moon


One August afternoon, raccoons appeared.
I saw them, furtive, under bushes slink,
conduct their masked nocturnal prowling — weird
behavior.  Time seemed truly out of sync.
The birds were settling down as if for night,
their early roosting unexpected, strange;
to them, descending dusk with dimming light
was subtle cue to make a vocal change.
My dog, disoriented, gave a bark
of protest.  Suddenly the air felt cool.
My body weight was lighter in this dark
while gravity let go a little pull.
There was a difference on this earthly sphere;
I sensed it while I waited watching here.


The sun slid slowly underneath the moon — 
a crescent, slender sliver, aureole.
I knew that it would reappear quite soon,
its brilliant ball completely round and whole.
My fascinated joy at the eclipse
is all about control: how long it lasts,
how long the darkness holds me in its grips,
is certain science in the weathercasts.
But most of life’s dark shadows do not warn.
Instead they pounce, persist.  The sun will burn,
the earth will turn, but lunar orbits borne
without alignment would compel concern.
With temporary darkness we can cope,
we shadowed creatures confidently hope.

Marye’s Martini


“A gin martini on the rocks,” she’d say,
“Please with a twist of lemon,” she’d explain.
Her age was ninety but her mood was gay;
she readied for her cocktail once again.
Essential element, the dry vermouth,
injected herbal taste.  Her favorite drink
then linked her to her history’s own truth — 
residing in hotels where glasses clink.
When ravages of time removed romance
and life itself (like her old movies’ end),
we lovingly took liberty, a chance
to make artistic legacy intend:
Commissioned sculpture of a stylish urn
martini glass now holds her ash eterne.



The reason why I pocketed this stone:
It beckoned from the bottom of a pool,
a shallows in the lake.  It was alone,
my own.  I felt it round and smooth and cool.

Another day I found a driftwood piece,
an ugly form which waves rejected, beached.
This long proboscis was a strange caprice;
exposed to sun, the nose was pocked and bleached.

My favorite souvenir might be this shell
upon whose enigmatic face an eye
stares up at me inscrutably.  Its spell
has fateful powers known to signify.

Inspired, I worship texture, shape, design.
Inscribed are notes of nature’s underline.