... it all depends on your perspective
In New England we are very used to woods. We immediately get the image when Robert
Frost writes “the woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and
miles to go before I sleep.” And we were brought up on European fairy tales like
Hansel and Gretel whose characters often went into the woods against their better
judgment. But when do “woods” cross the line into “forests”. It seems to be size, as
the dictionary says a forest is a “large area covered with trees and undergrowth”
while woods are defined as “a small forest”.
My first experience in a forest was camping in Grizzly Bear Creek State Park in
California, in the heart of the tall redwoods. As the sun began to set, rays of
light shone down making the surface of the creek sparkle while my sons took a swim
after a day’s travel. I sat down at the foot of one of the giant trees and bent my
head back to see up, up, up to the top. It was so high that I just laid down on my
back to get the view. I felt so small at that moment. After spending the night in
our tent trailer, we packed up to continue our drive up the west coast. The park
ranger saw our Massachusetts license plate and asked if we had collected any cones
from the redwoods.
We said, "No." He said, “Hold out your hands.” We expected one of those big
beautiful Christmasy cones. He filled our hands with tiny cones the size of olives.
Imagine the fantastic redwoods forest originating from such humble little seeds.
Our second experience with forests happened a few days later on the same trip. We
had the habit of going into grocery stores and asking local people what there was to
visit nearby. Close to Olympic National Park in Washington, we were directed to two
areas – the Ho Rainforest and Hurricane Ridge, both within the park’s boundaries.
After an early breakfast we arrived at the Ho Visitors’ Center before it opened and
began to hike one of the trails. It was damp and steamy as we stepped across bright
yellow snails about six inches high. They looked startling against the drab darkness
of the rain forest. As we walked we noticed trees growing in straight lines, like
someone had planted colonnades – very strange in the midst of swampy tangles. We
later learned about “nurse logs”. The tall trees die and fall onto the forest floor
to rot. Seeds get caught in the bark and grow along the fallen trunks in perfectly
straight rows. (That afternoon in the same park, we drove up to Hurricane Ridge
where the boys, wearing t-shirts stating “Property of Alcatraz”, made a small
snowman to celebrate the last day of July. What a trip!)
Once we had an opportunity in Venezuela to take a day trip to a cloud forest. A
three-hour ride climbing up the mountains surrounding Caracas brought us to Rancho
Grande Cloud Forest where scientists study the wide variety of flora and fauna found
in this area. As its name implies, the cloud forest was very foggy with a heavy
canopy of leaves and many vines trying desperately to climb the trunks to get to
light. The broad-leaved plants on the forest floor attracted many brightly feathered
birds in blues, reds, yellows and greens – cheerful spots in the semi-darkness. But
my most vivid memory of the gray cloud forest was the sound – the constant calls of
howler monkeys echoing in the hills. The howls were loud and continuous contrasting
with the silence of the heavy fog.
My last perspective of a forest came from a little girl who climbed off a bus in the
WalMart parking lot in Bellingham. I was there to take photos for the Fresh Air
Program when the sleek red bus pulled in from New York City. Each child met a
family, claimed meds from a counselor, got their luggage and said goodbye to friends
until they would all meet in two weeks to return to the city. One by one the
families drove off, some for the first time looking a bit nervous, others laughing
comfortably, all anticipating a vacation away from the steaming streets of inner
city New York. As the setting sun peeked through the trees lining Route 126 coming
through Medway, similar to Wyoming Avenue, one little girl was looking out of the
car window, fascinated by the scenery.
Her host family suddenly heard her soft voice ask, “Is this the forest?”
March 2, 2012