Posted by: christinelaennec | October 19, 2014

The forest

Part of my walk in Crianlarich took me into a forest.  I love the forest very much.  When we first came to Scotland, driving through areas such as Deeside made me feel I’d been transported back home to Oregon.  However, I felt stabbed in the heart whenever I saw clear-cut areas – until I realised that the forests we’d been driving through weren’t old-growth forest, but crops to be harvested.

I have hiked through “real” forests – for example in Glen Tanar.  There are remnants of the ancient Caledonian forest throughout Scotland.  Glen Affric is a stunning example.  The forest I walked through in Crianlarich was a forest plantation.

forest plantation, Crianlarich, September 2014.

Forest plantation, Crianlarich, September 2014.

While I have always had a love of the forest, and feel safe and protected under trees, not everyone feels the same.  I remember one of our friends in graduate student days, who was from Wyoming, said that trees “made her nervous”.  I found this perplexing!  But while Our Son always saw the forest as a fort-making and stick-throwing opportunity, the Dafter also feels nervous in the forest.

Looking into the forest

Looking into the forest

Peering into the crowded forest plantation, you can see why.  On my walk, I was reminded of when I used to teach something called French Survey of Literature.  This course plunged the poor students straight into medieval literature, and (as a medievalist myself in those days) I tried hard to show them that the Middle Ages wasn’t just, as Lucky Jim says in the novel, “a time when people were bad at art”.  One of the things that I tried to get them to understand was that during most of the Middle Ages, Europe was covered by forest.  As in fairy tales, the forest was a dangerous place to be and to traverse.

Perhaps some of them had already come to this conclusion, who knows?

Certain aspects of French medieval literature, for example the tales of the Round Table or the lays of Marie de France, can be better understood if one grasps the significance of the forest.  Interesting encounters happen in clearings (for example in the story of Yvain), and the Forest of Broceliande is a magical place.  Marie de France’s good-hearted werewolf, Bisclavret, reveals his true nature to the King when he bows to him during a hunt in the forest.

Recently, Michael and I had the chance to visit an event held by the Forestry Commission:  Light up the Forest.  We walked along paths lit by fires and torches.  Old groves of trees were uplit by coloured lights, and the waterfall was beyond a lit crevasse.  There was a ghostly installation depicting the people, now long gone, who used to live and work in the forest:

An installation, part of "Light up the Forest" in the Forestry Commission, Aberfoyle, October 2014.

An installation, part of “Light up the Forest” in the Forestry Commission, Aberfoyle, October 2014.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the name of the artist or the installation.  If you know, please leave a comment!

I do love the forest very much, and even if it can be spooky, I think I will always find it comforting.

What about you?  What does the forest mean to you?



  1. Wow, what an impressive event “Light up the Forest” it reminds of something similar I attend years ago in a forest in Germany. I also find a forest a great comfort.

  2. Oh my goodness, your Yvain reference took me back a bit! I did Professor Laidlaw’s Chretien de Troyes Honours option at Aberdeen, and wrote a finals paper about the later novels turning away from Arthur’s court. If I remember it all hinged on the ‘senstre voie’ being the way to the court and then in the later books the ‘droite voie’ heading away from the court towards a higher ideal. I’m sure there was a good dose of forest in there too!
    Away from literature, I love ‘proper’ forests, but I can feel uneasy in forestry plantations. Too sterile, too silent.
    Have you read ‘The Child that Books Built’, by Francis Spufford? He has a chapter on ‘The Forest’ – hard to describe, but a mix of his own experience of learning to read, the forest in fiction, the old Wild Wood of deep time, Piaget, Bettelheim, ‘Lucy and Tom’s Day’…

  3. I love trees. Jo says that trees are life and I agree with her. I have met a few people living out here that don’t like trees. I find that hard to understand, although I can understand how the Dafter might feel right in the middle of a deep deep forest enclosed by tall dark trees – they can indeed feel a bit ‘spooky’ at times.

  4. You have prompted me to consider and realize that I am a bit like Dafter, a little anxious about hiking through trees. In my case I think that the years I lived in locations that had poisonous snakes trained me to be ever vigilant wherever I was hiking, and in fact in Girl Scouts the leader of a hike was trained to carry a hoe…just in case a snake was aggressive!
    Thanks for such an interesting post, Christine. xx

  5. I am glad you enjoyed your trip to the forest. Having grown up close to the sea, I find the trees a little too close for my liking. For me, I prefer the expanse of an ocean. 🙂

  6. My grandfather was a woodsman, and I spent a lot of time in and amongst the trees. Woodlands and forests are still magical places, for me, although I completely understand the dafter’s reservations.

  7. Interesting stuff here!
    The Forest is important in German literature too, as well as in fairy stories.
    There is another ‘sound and light’ forest experience available in Pitlochry, in Perth-shire, every autumn. Faskally Wood, near Pitlochry, is lit up in really imaginative ways. Buses take people there from the main street in Pitlochry. Tickets are all sold now for this year’s show, but there will be another one in October next year. I saw it a couple of years ago,and found it very exciting.

  8. Such an interesting post, and I had never given any thought about feeling subdued in the forest. I have always felt all those trees to be balm for the soul. I do agree with Linda about the forestry plantations. They make me feel uneasy as well.

  9. Christine, I too grew up in Oregon (Medford), and the forest was a second home to me. I love being surrounded by trees. They are calming for me. Now that I am back home, I am finally having a chance to read some more of your posts and shall enjoy digging deeper. Thank you!

  10. What an interesting post. You know so much lol. I love forests and have often said I’d love to go for a walk through a deep forest where it is possible to get lost! I’ve never had the chance to try to find my way out but perhaps one day. I love trees but I also love to go to a tree farm to cut down a Christmas tree (I don’t actually cut the tree down myself you understand lol) I’m not sure if these two contradict each other but I won’t worry too much! x

    • I struggle a bit with buying a live Christmas tree, because I love trees very much. But I think of them as a harvested crop! I would never want an artificial tree.

  11. Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments. It’s so interesting to me how different we all are – some finding solace in the forest, some feeling nervous. And perhaps we just assumed everyone else felt the same way until the topic came up.

    Lorraine and Flora, thanks for writing about events like “Light up the Forest”. Perhaps someday I will make it to the one in Pitlochry.

    Linda, I’d forgotten about the ‘senestre voie’! Left/right is very important in those early tales (whence the word ‘sinister,’ meaning both ‘left’ and ‘bad’! Handy, the things I do manage to remember! ha ha). I haven’t heard of the book you mention but it sounds very interesting.

    J2Scotland, your comment reminds me that during all my growing-up years, the forest and the ocean were nearly synonymous in my mind, as all the oceans I knew on the Pacific Coast were next to the forest. One of the happiest places of my childhood was church camp, in the forest and next to the pounding surf. It took me a few years to realise that rarely do you find forest and ocean together in Scotland. You go one direction for one, and the opposite direction for the other!

  12. Ah, Christine – I knew there was something about you! I got my M.A. in French and was fortunate enough to have a medievalist as my major professor. In the second Louisiana history novel (just finished writing), I include some of the French medieval stories – I had to create a character who loves this literature as much as I do!

    To answer your question, I have to agree with you – I love the forest, and when I lived in the city, I missed my trees. I don’t think I could ever be comfortable on this planet without them. xo

  13. I had the chance to visit “Enlighten at Scone Palace” earlier this year, which sounds like a similar event.

    In Malaysia it’s the jungle, rather than the forest. Being a suburbanite, to me the jungle is thick, impenetrable, and where tigers live…But I grew up with a lot of British and European stories as well, and understood The Forest to be a magical place where significant things happen – both good and bad.

    I’m not terribly outdoorsy, so I’m not sure what sort of forests I’ve been in around Scotland, but (rather like graveyards) I’ve found some of them pleasant and peaceful, and some dark and scary. But I’m really more of a parks and gardens person than a forest person! 🙂

  14. Loved the photos…this reminded me so much of the tree farm in Oregon .

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