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Wild About Utah: Haunted in the forest

A piece of wood inside a skeletal animal jaw.
Shannon Rhodes

When life throws scary at you, what do you do? As we increasingly consider mental and emotional health issues and strategies, I find that my answer is that I go to the forest. Of course, I go there when things are going smoothly too, but I agree with Henry David Thoreau when he wrote, “When I would recreate myself, I seek the darkest wood.” He, in fact, recommended the “most dismal swamp,” but that is a little too slimy for me. I will stick with solid soil.

A few weeks ago I spied a bat dangling from the bricks on my front porch as I gazed at the moon just as I had asked my young students to do. It reminded me of how in Janell Cannon’s picture book "Stellaluna," a young bat survives a predatory owl’s attacks, falling “down, down … faster and faster, into the forest below.” She clings to a branch until her strength gives out, then “down, down again she dropped” into an unlikely predicament. Bats and harvest moons are iconic figures of this season, and as I ventured out for a sanity walk in the Cache National Forest, everywhere I looked I saw more.

Fall forests are full of chilling scenes, and I was first struck by a gruesome sap bleed from a gaping evergreen canker. The yellow ooze seeping seemed beautiful somehow. I don’t remember ever being so captivated by a wounded plant, and because I lingered, I also spotted a chrysalis containing a caterpillar’s costume change on a neighboring tree. Next to that were the witchy remains of other withering forbs.

Beneath my hiking boots was a toothy jaw grinning amid fragile leaf skeletons scattered on the forest floor. Even as I swapped away the cobwebs I didn’t see ahead until it was too late, the eerie beauty of nature eased the tormenting worries in my life. There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “You can only go halfway into the darkest forest; then you are coming out the other side.”

A good walk outside is great for the distressed heart and mind. I needed to find the unlikely power in autumn icons. As Mary Shelley wrote for Frankenstein, “Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” Next time you are frightened by the unknowns or scarred by the realities, consider falling into a forest.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Sound Credit: Anderson, Howe, Wakeman

Text: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/

Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Cannon, Janell. 1993. Stellaluna. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company.

Shelley, Mary Woolstonecraft. 1818. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/84/84-h/84-h.htm

Thoreau, Henry David and Brooks Atkinson. 2000. Walden and Other Writings. New York: Modern Library.