“If you go out in the woods today…”

Why “The Darkest Part of the Forest”?

Because that’s where I come from. It’s where I write from. It’s where I prefer to live.

The “Forest” part is probably pretty obvious – I like the woods. I love wild places, and I’ve grown up in forests my entire life, clambering cliffs and valleys, climbing trees, and curling up in the nooks of roots to nap or read my book.

The “Darkest” part is probably a little more ambiguous. See, most people think of the Deep Dark Woods, and they think of Little Red Riding Hood’s grandma getting eaten. It’s a scene of horror and fear and terrible, terrible things. Bad people hang out in dark places, and if there are no people, then it’s the killer animals. Or the shadows that lurk on the edge of the soul, waiting for a chance to bring nightmares to life. Whatever it is, most people don’t like it. Don’t want it. And those who do, often seem to chase it with an elated, pee-your-pants, morbid fascination.

I admit it; I was in the morbid fascination group, and that’s how I first ended up in the forest at night. It was a heady combination of anger, recklessness, and desperation. I needed something a little more raw, a little more dangerous. I needed the adrenaline to feel alive, and what provided more blood-pumping fear than going unaided and unlit to the place that everyone unanimously avoided? And so I went from wandering the streets at night, to sitting in starlit parks, to wandering my favorite shadowed woodsy trails.

What I found was something I hadn’t expected. Sure, the first time, I jumped at crickets, I was so nervous. The second time, I decided to stay longer. I picked a nice piece of shade, and sat down.

There’s a quote by Henry David Thoreau, “A howling wilderness does not howl: it is the imagination of the traveler that does the howling.” I found it to be so incredibly, beautifully true. I sat, and listened, and watched, and was still. There were animals, minding their own business. There were trees, minding their own business. There was the wind, minding everyone’s business, as it blew through. I didn’t get attacked, or eaten, or abducted by things in the night. Those ravenous man-eating wolves? No shows. The serial killer with the blood-stained cleaver? Didn’t even bother to say “hello.” The terrifying goblin-demons with glowing red eyes? Pretty sure they all stayed home.

Which is not to say that dangerous things haven’t happened, and that’s why I vastly prefer walking with a friend. I’ve cut trips short because I heard a bear in the area, or canceled going outside because there was a cougar hunting in the backyard. Things happen. It’s not all terrifying, and it’s not all serene. Peaceful, exhilarating, wondrous, simple, nerve-wracking, dull, busy, quiet, calming, breath-taking – it’s this vibrant reality that makes the woods a wonderful place to be.

In that all, though, there is a certain sameness to the woods, especially when one is alone. While animals may amble through, or flit from branch to branch, there is no man-made entertainment. No television, no computer games, no advertisements or car crashes – no people. And this lends itself to a sort of quiet introspection. Without massive amounts of external stimulation or distractions, there is time and time enough to think. To wonder.

I love the honesty in it, the open eyes that see the danger and also the beauty. There’s a joy in deciding that the risk is worth it, and enjoying the moonlight. There’s a joy in being happily flexible, bending to accommodate paradox and possibility, and having a place to think. In modern Western society, “The Darkest Part of the Forest” is a fearful place, where all those paradoxes and possibilities meet in a torrential river of paranoia. How I see it, paradoxes and possibilities are the truest realities, and that’s why I love them.

I choose to live in “The Darkest Part of the Forest.” And in living there, that’s where my words come from.

Lynn Valley, North Vancouver, B.C.
Lynn Valley, North Vancouver, B.C. – courtesy of http://www.stefanf.com/.