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.

Falling from Grace

buy | read review

The Hidden Life of Trees

buy | read review

Burning Bright

buy | read review

The Bear and the Nightingale

buy | read review

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel

buy | read review

other books we mentioned


other cool stuff we talked about

  • Just to set the scene…

two truths and a lie

  • 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.


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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.

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