Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Forest

When I was little, barely more than a baby, we lived in a house in the woods. It is the first house I actually remember, and just the slightest scent of woodsmoke takes me back there. I can recall the first time I saw it, the way the trees blurred along the roadside as we drove, noticing the flowers and the manzanita trees and the wooden sign painted with rabbits.

I remember the days spent making mud pies while my parents cleared the land for our yard, cutting out weeds and bushes and emptying the litter that had been dumped there, and later, after the clearing was done, our morning walks down the lane, or into the woods, where a little pond hid behind the trees and we found the doors of a rabbit's house.

I wonder if it was that experience that left me so fascinated by forests, why they figure so heavilly in my stories and the landscape of my mind, why I cannot follow the paths in the grass, or watch the sunlight dancing over the bark and leaves, or stare down a dark corridor of trees and not feel that something is waiting there, that at any moment something utterly unearthly might pass across my sight.

Or maybe it was the books I read as a child. So many of the old stories, Greek, Scandinavian, English, Native American, all teem with images of the forest, of ancient trees and lost children, secret paths and woodland spirits. Or maybe it is neither of these, but some near-forgotten primeval memory carried in my blood.

Ancestors of mine came from all over Europe, and all had their tales of the woods. My French trapper great-grandfather lived and hunted in the deepest forests of North America, and the Souix Indians from whom I am descended believed one of the most beautiful sights in the world was the sun coming through the trees.

Or perhaps it is older even than that. Perhaps all humans hold this inborn sense of awe, this communal knowledge, an awareness deeper than instinct, that somewhere in that darkness, beneath those arching branches, there is something alive, some ancient eye watching, some great heart beating, some hidden hand shrouding its secrets behind the mist and dappled sunlight.

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