Departments

Forests

Forests have personalities, different as their different attitudes toward human beings. I feel now the weary indifference of the Great Piney Woods; I remember well the young daring malevolence of the Pine Barrens. City Park of New Orleans (the largest live-oak grove in the world), like its city and people drives thick deep roots into unfaithful soil. I adduce these three as forests I know very well. I could talk of other forests, but I defer to those who know them better.

By personality I do not mean the mood that a forest induces. The personality of a forest is not an embodied or predictable quality, yet it can be correlated with the forest that has it—as the personality of a building can be correlated with its architecture, through plans cannot foretell it and architects cannot make it to order.

Trees make up a forest, and a forest conceals its trees; so a forest is constituted by concealment. And a forest conceals more than trees. The forest is full of things that jump and climb, squirrels and woodrats, and claws and teeth to hunt them. The forest provides for things which must hide at times: a hole for the bear's hibernation, noon twilight for the owl's delicate, instrumental eyes. We name forests for the kinds of trees which conceal them; we know forests by what they can (and what they have) concealed. Tall, straight firs that keep their needles about their trunks hide little, have little to hide, are friendly. (The TV studios of British Columbia should learn that there is no dread to be found in their forests.) All the forests of the American South are full of the memories of ambuscades and bushwackers. What could tell of the forests of Europe, better than that their field neighbors could believe whole covens to hold there unheard? That in imagination wolves moved their not in packs, but in armies? The Pine Barrens conceal ghost towns well, and what night visitors leave there better. And it is easy to believe the report of Goodman Brown (or Lovecraft) of the forests of New England.

Since a forest is known by its kind of secrets, it is not easy to get to know a forest. They are all very skilled in dissembling with pryers. They must be courted, with unconscious attention and curious patience. What is there by way of personality is not perceptible to all; but though it cannot be pointed to, yet it not fancy or sentiment. Secrecy is a kind of negative language; who keeps secrets speaks in silence. In this shadow of language forests speak, teaching by omission.