Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Enchanted Forests

Nisene Marks, CA
During my sister, N’s, spring break last week, we went to visit family and friends in central California, where we grew up.  There is always something a little heartbreaking about returning to a place that is not home anymore, but was once.

The coastal forests of California are the foundational forests of my imagination; the landscapes which are written bone-deep on me – the ones that don’t just fill my dreams, but scent them too.  While I can identify far more plants in that ecosystem than in others, even the ones I don’t know the names of, or uses for, are familiar to me.  I have seen them season to season, in all moments of their growth and death.  

Hoh Rainforest, WA
In visiting that forest, I am reminded of how little I know the forests of the Pacific Northwest.  There I am a visitor, who marvels at the sights but does not yet know the language.  In a strange sense the forests of the North are more accessible to me through the mediums of literature, photography or film.  In California the woods are familiar because they are inside of me.  Where I live now the experience of the forest takes the reinterpretation of the artist’s eye, my own or someone else’s, to allow me to recognize that what I am seeing corresponds to something I know.
Me, playing dryad

The Forest that lies at the heart of Idhua grows from that soil that grows the redwoods carpeted with wood sorrel; the tangle of hazel, thimbleberry and bramble that shadows a trickling creek.  The first description of the Forest I wrote (when I was in my early twenties) was both consciously and unconsciously the woods I walked in:

It was well after midday when she came to the first of the great trees.  It reached up and up in majestic grandeur towards the soft sky, high above.  Her heart leapt and she stopped to look more closely at the vast ancient tree.  There was a rich, sharp fragrance in the air of bark and leaf.  The dizzying height made her feel as though she were but a mouse creeping through a vast, living cathedral.  She walked in silence between them and at last, when the light was turning rich and golden, she came to a grove of giants that grew in a circle and in the center of them was a mossy mound.
My sister, playing dryad
The Forest of Idhua, besides being infused with enchantment, stretches from northern mountains wrapped in ice, to southern lakes, shimmering under a brilliant sun. My intention is that it contains many different forests – from cedar to redwood, from oak to maple – yet, I think it is inescapable that its primeval layer this first forest of my memory.  C. S. Lewis wrote that a reader “does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted” (29-30).  It is an interactive process for me, as a reader, writer and lover of trees; it is impossible to say whether the enchantment springs first from the forest itself, the trees I read about or those that grow in my imagination.

Works Cited:
Lewis, C. S. Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. 2002. Boston: Mariner Books.

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