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.
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.
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:
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?