The forest primeval is amused. © Ruth Lopez
Merry belated dear Rose. The woods have been calling.
The woods are always calling, you say. It's true. So true. There is a pull, where is it coming from?
The weekend before Christmas, I went to a favorite inn. A friend was doing a shadow puppet show/gong bath at a yoga studio a few towns down the lake (a lovely space, as it turns out, for such an activity). It had to do with dreams (we met in a Jungian dream group) and centered on a Mary Oliver poem and the woods and a host of other compelling stuff. I decided to go and then hike the next day in Warren Woods State Park–311 acres of undisturbed woods, a forest primeval. It's a wonderful, albeit raggedy, place. If you are in search of the giant and the ancient, you won't necessarily find it here. These beech and sugar maple trees topple on their own accord with always more springing up.
I want to learn about the forest primeval; like how many exist in the United States? I end up reading a 1939 article/script that was part of the USDA's Forestry Division for a regular radio broadcast called Homemaker's Chat and Rose, you can imagine the detour I took with that one (seems we ladies needed to know how to get our families to enjoy the outdoors as well as how to organize our kitchens.) "This is the Forest Primeval" is one such chat and for a kick in the pants, have your computer read it aloud to you.
I search for one of my books on folktales by Marina Warner and get lost in the thicket of her marvelous brain. Read anything by her, but for a straight-to-the-point bit, listen to this short interview (from a five-part series on death by the excellent To The Best of Our Knowledge radio program), where Warner is asked to talk about what makes the forest enchanted. What makes it seem mysterious and even dangerous? For pure entertainment, there is Stephen Sondheim and a certain movie that is out now. In a Paris Review interview with Sondheim, the musical theater composer talked about creating Into the Woods because he had always wanted to do a fairy tale, but by their nature, fairy tales are too short. Sondheim says: "So the notion arose of mashing a number of fairy tales together." And it works because everyone, for the most part, ends up in the woods. The enchanted forest. It should be a proper noun. Enchanted Forest. It's a unique entity–a least in a figurative sense.
Back to the question, always. The question leads to more questions. Warner directs us to the thing itself, to its inherent symbolism and history of a place that once covered the land and was dark and full of creatures. Going into the woods was about getting sustenance and about initiation. Go read for more on that but let me wrap this tangent up with the question that Warner poses (regarding various fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood) that really gets me thinking (and that links to medicine): Why does grandmother live deep in the forest in the first place?
My first play was a first grade a production of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Despite my dark tresses, I played the lead. The insipid song that I had to sing while skipping around on the stage in a weird slow loop (lest I wind up in front of the opening to the forest on the painted backdrop too soon) went like this:
I'm Goldilocks, I like the spring, I like to dance and I like to sing. I like the woods ... and, Rose, the rest is a blank, probably because it doesn't matter. I only remembered the beginning of what gets me to the part that remains true.