SSoP Podcast Episode 31 — The Forest: Meet a Witch, Climb a Tree

SSoP Podcast Episode 31 — The Forest: Meet a Witch, Climb a Tree

Monday, 29 November, 2021

Forests cover almost 1/3 of the Earth’s land surface. Just one-third of those are primeval forests, the essential, special woods populated with old-growth trees that have never been logged. They have canopies layered with trees of different heights and widths, and there’s a wide variety of species. They’re basically tree utopia.

And for longer than memory, those deep, dark forests have been a symbolic, powerful setting for stories. The wildwoods of fairy tales are where we meet Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and Rumpelstiltskin. The Hundred Acre Wood is where we find Winnie the Pooh and his darling friends. J.R.R. Tolkein introduced generations of readers to the Ents in the woods of Middle Earth, and Sherwood Forest gave Robin Hood a hiding place for his merry men.

The duality of the forest, the contrast between its beauty and its danger, resonates with us. The soaring treetops and dappled sun of a daytime forest form a natural cathedral where we commune with Mother Nature. But when the sun is low in the sky, the shadows take over, and the trees become a place of the unknown where almost anything can happen. When the words Once upon a time… are spoken, all bets are off.

In this episode, we explore the meaning of the forest in literature, learn about trees in space, and recommend five books that transported us into the woods, including two fairy tales for adults, a nonfiction book that changes everything we think we know about trees, a white-knuckle thriller, and an ecological novel woven into a family saga.

Books, Transcript, and More

For a complete roundup of all the books we recommend, plus a full transcript and the other cool stuff we talked about, visit the Episode 31 show notes.


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Oh! A walk in the woods! There are berries to eat and trees to climb. You could catch a glimpse of a fuzzy rabbit or a majestic stag. You might also run afoul of a witch, be chased by a bear, or get lost forever.
Yes, you could forage for nuts and berries in the woods. Or, instead, you might whip up a batch of this homemade granola and take that on your next hike. It's sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy, and eminently shareable.
You don't have to be tucked inside a fairy tale house in a dark forest to enjoy this hearty, garlicky mushroom soup — but it's fun to pretend. Let the snow fall. Let the ghosts romp. Just sip your soup and enjoy.
In this short but powerful poem from 1910, Rudyard Kipling takes us on a walk through a forest populated with badgers and otters and doves. There is misty solitude and cool night air. Go, take a walk in the woods.
In this free verse poem from 1914, Robert Frost takes us into the birch forests of New England — to marvel at the way the branches bend but don't break, to appreciate climbing and swinging free above the Earth.
We cannot resist a sun-dappled path that winds among tall tree trunks, then seems to disappear around a curve just up ahead. What lies beyond: Danger? Treasure? Adventure? There's only one way to find out: Walk on.

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