I believe that the great stretches of forest in northern Europe, with their constant seasonal changes, their restricted views, their astonishing biological diversity, their secret gifts and perils and the knowledge that you have to go through them to get to anywhere else, created the themes and ethics of the fairytales we know best. There are secrets, hidden identities, cunning disguises; there are rhythms of change like the changes of the seasons; there are characters, both human and animal, whose assistance can be earned or spurned; and there is – over and over again – the journey or quest, which leads first to knowledge and then to happiness. The forest is the place of trial in fairy stories, both dangerous and exciting. Coming to terms with the forest, surviving its terrors, utilising its gifts and gaining its help is the way to ‘happy ever after’.– From Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland.
To me all woods are the wild woods of folklore because, as Sara says above, becoming familiar with them increases my understanding of the tales we’ve been telling each other for millennia. I try to walk in woodland as often as I can because not only does the simple act of walking help keep me sane and physically functional but wandering along the paths through the trees, and sometimes off them if something catches my eye, helps me to shape my thoughts and the stories I write in a way nothing else does.
It isn’t just being in rural, natural spaces that I need, it’s specifically being surrounded by oak and ash and thorn* growing on land that has never known anything else which puts me into the sort of mental space that I find more and more necessary to my wellbeing and storytelling. I could not explain why this is the case if my life depended on it but that makes it no less true.
I am a woods-woman, through and though, and I now order my life accordingly.
*and many other different types of tree, obviously. It’s just that the phrase “oak and ash and thorn” holds so much meaning in so few words I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to use it.