Misty Autumnal Woods

Click thru to Etsy

I’ve got a wood­land paint­ing up on Etsy at the moment, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about woods.

I love woods but I also find them deeply spooky. Even in the middle of the day, a sun­lit forest can still be a little unnerv­ing. And it’s not just me that thinks so; our myth­o­logy seems to have mixed feel­ings about woods too.

Woods are where people in fairy tales get lost, where wolves lurk beside the path to grandmother’s house, where witches skulk in their decrepit cab­ins, where the fair folk hold their cap­tiv­at­ing courts and where gob­lins keep their coun­cil. Yet woods are also refuges; out­law places away from society’s con­cerns — just ask Robin Hood and his merry pals, Christopher Robin in his Hundred Acres, the elves of Lothlórien or old Tom Bombadil.

Indeed, teddy bears hold their pic­nics there, but even so, you bet­ter go in dis­guise. So why this ambiguity?

Well, I can only speak for myself, but many of the reas­ons why I love them are also the reas­ons why I find them spooky. It’s not easy to artic­u­late, but I’ll give it a go:

Well,

• They are not human places – we are creatures of towns, of roads, of rolling hills and open coun­tryside. Woods do not belong to us, even when we plant them and man­age them, and even when there are roads and build­ings cut­ting through them. In a wood, you’re always tres­passing, and you don’t have to wander far before the silent trees swal­low up the signs of civil­iz­a­tion. Woods seem to stand apart from the world. Which brings me to a related point:

They’re quiet. Almost too quiet. Oh, there’s bird-song, and rust­ling leaves, but where are the cars, the radios, the ring-tones? Where is the ever-present hub­bub of human voice, the end­less churn­ing rumble of daily life? Trees eat sound, kill noise. You can be thirty feet from a road and it will be as quiet as the grave. In fact the only time woods aren’t eer­ily quiet is when:

They’re loud. Have you ever been in the woods on a windy day, or dur­ing a storm? The trees creak and moan, branches thrash­ing, crash­ing together, twigs snap­ping. There’s the occa­sional crack, like a gun­shot, like a splin­ter­ing bone, as part of a tree is torn loose. And the leaves! It doesn’t seem right that some­thing can whis­per and shout at the same time, but that’s what hap­pens. A deaf­en­ing roar of swirl­ing white noise; an ocean of sound. You don’t have to be overly ima­gin­at­ive to hear the hiss of hid­den voices in that susur­rus clam­our, espe­cially in the woods at night when:

They’re dark. Really dark. Obviously, places without street­lights (i.e. most woods, except for that one place in Narnia) are dark at night, but woods take it one step fur­ther. Open coun­try at night will be dark, but you can man­age: there’s not much to trip over, and, once your eyes adjust, a little moon­light or star­light is all you need. Not so with woods: they cover the moon with their fin­gers and wrap them­selves in a blank­ness of dark­ness. Previously clear paths now snare and trip with roots and under­growth, and every bush and shadow hides lion and tigers and bears (oh my!). In fact, even in day­light, woods can be dark: oh sure, the dappled sun­light is very pretty, but then the sun goes behind a cloud and sud­denly gloom hangs like cob­webs from the branches.

So, in short, woods are scary because they’re wild, unciv­il­ized places, and woods are awe­some because they’re wild, unciv­il­ized places.

And –drag­ging myself back to the actual sub­ject of this blog– it’s this strange ambi­gu­ity that inspired the paint­ing with which I star­ted this post.

From a dis­tance it’s a mel­low autum­nal scene; the warm red and bronze of fallen leaves blankets the ground and a soft mist winds around the bare trees. But look more closely: the trees are a cold grey-green and corpse-like hue, stark and jagged as dag­gers, claw­ing at the ground, loom­ing, advancing.

I’m not com­pletely sure how well it worked, of course, but hope­fully I’ve cap­tured a little of the lovely/spooky feel­ing of a walk in the woods.


Far away

Mellow?

Close Up

Scary?

We’d love to know how you feel about woods, whether you’re a fan or a-fraid. Let us know in the com­ments section.

Article Details

Item: Misty Autumn Woods

Dimensions: 18 by 14 inches (36 by 45.75 centimeters)

Materials: Acrylic paint on cot­ton can­vas, gal­lery wrapped

Availability: Available on ETSY — click for details

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One Response to A Ramble through the Woods

  1. […] like fish — they’re prob­ably my favor­ite sub­ject for paint­ing (well, I like woods as well, but it’s hard to combine […]

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