I sit and look out my back window into the yard behind my house. It is large and full of trees; a combination of fir and pine and aspen. On this day, early in the morning it is cold and a fog is moving in. The white/grey translucent mist sneaks its way into the yard. It weaves its way between the trees like tendrils of smoke. Soon the entire yard will be obscured from view save for a handful of tree trunks standing like the legs of some great insect in a pool of white.
This happens in the mountains. And I love it.
There is something about a forest dark and gloomy that attracts me, compels me. It fills me with a feeling I am not quite able to express. A melancholy sadness is the way I want to describe it. But that is not quite right. There is sadness in a sense, and also fear and foreboding. But there is also a feeling of invigoration and my mind is filled with ideas and inspiration. Something just there on the edges, like a taste you can’t quite identify. Or like feeling the texture of rough stone while wearing gloves, it is something familiar but difficult to describe.
I am reminded of a feeling one gets just before drifting off to sleep but when you are still partially awake. It is called hypnagogia and it is the threshold between reality and dream where the two become one and the unreal becomes real. A waking dream.
That is the feeling I get from a gloomy forest.
I suppose this is not uncommon. In the old days the forest was a place of mystery. It stood on the edges of your town or village and it was full of danger, possibly death. One did not simply go wandering in the forest without running the risk of losing oneself to the unknown.
This is why fairytales take place in forests, particularly dark ones. There is magic living there between the trees, floating on the mist and fog, buried deep within the wet earth. And the long forgotten denizens of the shadowy places could capture you, place you under their spell, enthrall you. Or so we were told.
If you were to walk alone in the forest you had to be adventurous, you had to be brave.
A long time ago when I was a child I would walk in the woods behind my elementary school. It was filled with large deciduous trees – oak and maple and cherry – in the autumn the leaves would fall in brown and red and orange piles and would crunch under my feet as I walked. My favorite time to walk there was just before a storm when the air was heavy and smelled like rain. There were large rocks that jutted from the ground, round and smooth and covered in moss, big enough to stand on. And I would climb them and stand on the very top holding a branch fallen from a nearby tree. The branch I would call a sword and I would give it a name (as all swords should have a name). The name would be heroic, meaningful – EvenStar or GlimmerSlicer or FoodBringer (when I was hungry) – and I would wave it above my head and call the fairies and the monsters to come forth and battle me in the darkness of the encroaching storm.
None ever dared to come out in the open but there were times when I could see the faint movement out of the corner of my eye of something shuffling off to hide behind a willow of a juniper bush.
I would take my sword then and draw patterns in the wet earth. Sometimes it would be words – of warning or of greeting – and sometimes it would be pictures. I did this to leave a message, I was here and I would be back. When I would come back sometimes the messages were gone, erased by rain or wind. But sometimes I would swear the message had been added to by some unseen hand.
Much later I moved to the West where the trees are giants. Mighty Redwoods that stretched far into the sky, so far I could not see their top. And Sequoia as big as houses that took time to walk around to see the other side. And instead of the crunch of dried leaves underfoot there would be needles and pinecones as I walked. I was older of course and I had put away childish adventures. My sword now was a pen and the place I wrote my messages was not in the mud but in notebooks, college ruled with wide margins. But still I walked in the woods, in the forest, preferably in the growing darkness before the rain.
I knew better than to believe that there were fairies that lived there – that was silly childish thinking – but still there were giants weren’t there? And always talk of Sasquatch roaming or maybe a Wendigo to be seen (if you looked really closely). But these were tales to frighten the young ones or the ramblings of the crazy old folk who lived too close to the edges of the wood for too long. So I would sit and listen to the rush of a distant creek, to the scutter of something in the far off branches. And I would ask the giants to tell me a secret, to tell me a story. And I would hope, secretly, that I was wrong. That the forest was still full of the hidden mysteries I believed them to be as a child.
Now I am much older but not much wiser. And the fog darkens the woods behind my house. I will go out now and walk among them, the distant memories, the tales of old, and the whispers of giants in a forest dark and gloomy. Perhaps I will meet something or someone – full of magic. Perhaps a compromise will be made or a contest will be undertaken or a message delivered. And when I come back maybe – just maybe – there will be a new story to tell.
An idea pulled from the edges of a dream.
originally published April 7, 2020