The Ruricolist is now available in print.


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, like its city and people, drives deep roots into unfaithful soil. These three are forests I know well. I could mention other forests, but I defer to those who know them better.

By personality I do not mean the mood that a forest gives you. The personality of a forest, though not an embodied or predictable quality, 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 the forest conceals its trees; so the forest is an act of concealment. And the 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 conceal. Tall, straight firs that keep their needles about their trunks hide little, have little to hide, are friendly. All the forests of the American South are full of the memories of ambuscades and bushwhackers. 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 there 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 distinguished by its kind of secrets, it is not easy to get to know a forest. They are all very skilled in dissembling with spies. They must be courted, with conscious attention and curious patience. What is there by way of personality is not perceptible to all; but though it cannot be pointed to, it is not imaginary. Secrecy is the negative image of language; when we keep secrets, we speak in silence. In this shadow language forests speak, teaching by omission.