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Beauty and medical properties of the Carpathian forests
Mariya VLAD shares with the readers her fascination with smereka trees of the Carpathians and tells about health improvement they are capable of providing.
No one who has ever been in a smereka forest in the Carpathians remains indifferent to its beauty. No wonder, smerekas have been sung by poets; smerekas feature in many songs as well.
Smereka is a species of the fir tree, which is indigenous to the Carpathian Mountains. It is not only a very handsome tree — its “exhalations” kill all the germs around it and thus just sitting down under a smereka and spending some time in meditation, is good for your health.
I hail from the Carpathians and I am enamoured of the mountains. Though now I live elsewhere, my love for the mountains never wavers and remains as strong as ever. Whenever I go back to the Carpathians, I feel, both physically and emotionally, better than anywhere else. People who hail from other places in Ukraine or beyond its borders, and who come to the Carpathians as tourists, or for visits to relatives and friends, say that the mountains bring serenity to their souls and health to their bodies.
My brother Mykola still lives in the Carpathians, in the village of Roztoky, close to the River Cheremosh. He offers accommodation in his wooden house to tourists from various parts of Ukraine, and from abroad as well. He says he has already had tourists from France, Japan and Poland. And everybody felt great in that native place of mine. In a poem, written long ago, I said,
Smereky look black
Among beeches green.
And the spring in my mountains
Smells bitterly of farewells
It grieves me and pains me so much to see the destructive results of excessive deforestation that is talking place in the Carpathians — without its trees, the mountains will lose its magic spell.
Most of the trees in the Carpathians are coniferous, with smerekas being the most conspicuous and majestic among them. According to Nadiya Chornenka, who works at the Department of Geography at the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, the coniferous forests occupy 262,000 hectares in Ivano-Frankivsk; malacophyllous (soft-leaved) forests occupy only 16,000 hectares, and hard-leaved forests occupy over 164,000 hectares; in other words, over 60 percent of forests in that Oblast are coniferous, with dark-green smerekas being in the lead.
Smerekas begin to grow in the Carpathians at an altitude of 800 or 900 metres above the sea level, and spread as high as up to an altitude of almost 1,700 metres. Smerekas do not require too much light and are rather highly resistant to all kinds of weather conditions, but they don’t like dry conditions or excessive warmth.
Smereka forests offer much more than scenic sights — they create a healthy microclimate, they make the air salubrious; the fragrances in a smereka forest are soothing, the sounds are soul-comforting. In fact, the health-improving properties of the smereka forests have been confirmed by medical researchers, both Ukrainian and foreign.
Even without having a medically confirmed proof of the restorative properties of the smereka forests, many distinguished personalities of Ukrainian letters and scholarship of the nineteenth and early twentieth century spent considerable amounts of time in the Carpathian Mountains. Among such personalities were Ivan Franko, Lesya Ukrayinka and Hnat Khotkevych.
Even the sounds that trees in the forest make turn out to be good for your health. The level of noise in the forests is estimated to be about 20 or 30 decibels, and such levels have been shown to produce a tonic effect upon the nervous system, the muscles and endocrine glands, and there are no natural sounds that forests make, which can be harmful to your health. The other way round — unpleasant or harmful man-made sounds get muffled and absorbed in the forests, and about a hundred metres from the source of such sounds they will completely lose their pernicious effect and will be heard no longer.
Another great thing about forests — they absorb all sorts of pollution that is thrown into the air by the industries, cars and whatever else produces them. One hectare of coniferous trees can absorb up to a ton of noxious gases a year, up to 35 tons of dust and purify 18 million cubic metres of air! Have a good look at these figures available thanks to scientific research.
Walks through the smereka forests are great for health improvement. The air is permeated with ozone and wonderful fragrances. After spending only an hour in a smereka forest, you may feel sweetly sleepy — don’t get alarmed! It’s a reaction of your body to your lungs being filled with fresh air. The longer you stay there, the more your whole organism will be cleansed of harmful substances and bacteria that invade it in urban settlements. According to Ms Chornenka, one cubic metre of air in a city contains 30,000 to 40,000 bacteria and other hazardous microorganisms; a cubic metre of air in a city park will have up to 2,000 such microorganisms, and in coniferous forests their presence in the air is minimal.
The recreation and health-improvement potential of the smereka forests in the Carpathian Mountains is worth much more than the market value of all the timber that can be obtained from them.
Only 0.3 hectares of a forest produces enough oxygen for a human being to breathe for twelve months; forests absorb carbonic acid gas and exude aromatic, resinous substances, which are good for health — they produce positive effect on the brains; the level of sugar in the blood goes down and the level of oxygen in it goes up. And you begin to feel real good — much better than before!
Smerekas of the Carpathians produce the greatest amount of ionized oxygen and of germ-killing substances, but other trees that also grow in the Carpathians add their good share too. In this respect, the Carpathian trees are particularly active from July up to the end of August, but even in the dead winter the air in the Carpathians is balmy.
It has been established that in addition to the air and other things in the Carpathian Mountains that are good for your health and mental state, even the colour scheme of the evergreen forests of the Carpathians produces a salubrious effect. The green colour helps stabilize your blood pressure, dilate your blood vessels, relieve the eye strain; the green of the forest in combination with the blue of the sky brings peace to your nervous system — no wonder many people like to lie down on the ground and look up at the blue sky through the green tops of conifers.
Photographs by Roman Mykhaylyuk