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.
Everything you need to know about the trillion trees movement.
Travel back in time to our days in high school chorus with these musical interludes:
Statement 1: There are hawks in Australia that start forest fires. From National Geographic: ‘In interviews, observations, and ceremonies dating back more than a century, the indigenous peoples of Australia’s Northern Territory maintain that a collective group of birds they call firehawks can control fire by carrying burning sticks to new locations in their beaks or talons.’ Read more about it here and here.
Statement 2: There are trees that have been to Mars. The story of the NASA ‘moon trees’ is surprisingly sweet. You can read more about them and browse the list of moon trees or read the NASA account of this special mission.
Statement 3: There are an estimated 3 trillion trees on earth. According to the World Atlas, there are more trees on Earth than stars in the Milky Way. And — good news — America has more trees now than it did a century ago. Here’s the map that illustrates Global Forest Change.
Ann Eriksson is the author of Falling From Grace. Here’s her website.
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