Wednesday, 11 February 2009
Meanwhile, in another forest......
Inspirational 'pohanginapete', who obviously makes lots of other people (as well as me) think for themselves, has just triggered great thought-trains about forests.
This is his photograph of forest in New Zealand.
It's interesting, and I could see that I'd really like to be there and have a look around....but does it contain any of the elements that make Northern European forests so very important to Northern Europeans? Yet, interestingly, the photographs on the above link to his photographic blog do have that effect.
European forests are where people go for restoration and transformation. They lie deep and impenetrable in the European psyche, fuelled by traditional stories, and deeper, darker myths and legends, not to mention the depths of psycho-analysis.
Small children are abandoned in the forest by jealous and wicked adults, often step-mothers. There they learn to fend for themselves and to overcome evil (Babes in the Wood, Hansel and Gretel, Snow-White). Young girls face unspeakably awful dangers when they go off alone into the deep dark forests,( Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks - and what was Goldilocks up to anyway? She had no reason at all to be there, all alone. Perhaps it was plain willfulness. At least Little Red Riding Hood was sent there, to look after Grandma).
Northern European children emerge triumphant from these ordeals. They overcome the wicked adults, and the evil forces. They unite with the gentle influences; the small furry animals, the plants that protect them, the social outcasts, like the dwarves and gnomes.
Dangerous animals, bears and wolves, are outwitted or tamed, or frightened into submission. A spell of time in the forest, the experience of being lost, frightened, alone, seems to be an essential rite of passage in childhood fantasy. Facing the darkness, facing the wolves, conquering the ill-intentioned adults and emerging wiser, prettier, stronger and more handsome seems an essential element in European childhood.
Russian children face even more terrifying dangers, probably because the forests were, and still are, limitless. There are witches behind every tree, and their appallingly ill-constructed houses can run about on chicken legs. There is even more magic, more transformation, to enable the children to return to Babushka and the bubbling samovar. Yet still the children triumph. Even if they die in the forest their little fragile bones will emit a silver glow which leads to the downfall of the greedy and the powerful who abandoned them there in the first place.
We tell our children these stories from their babyhood onwards. My older son used to say, 'Babes in the Wood!' as a form of explitive when he was three years old. I wonder now why I did it; why I fed them such terrifying images.
They loved it, that's why! The books, pictures and stories were so ubiquitous I could not have avoided them. Even at such an early age they knew that goodness and kindness could keep the darkness in its place, and that by the end of the story the forest would be within manageable proportions.
We go into the forest with suitable caution. It supplies our needs. It gives food and shelter. It may provide companionship. Every week there are programmes on television showing survival techniques. Even 'extreme' survival techniques, which involve falling into frozen ponds and eating things scraped off dead logs. It's important to know. Just in case.....
The forest is never far away.
This antipodean forest is very far away. It looks as if it might be warm and friendly, full of curious creatures that bumble about harmlessly in a Disneyish way.
Is it full of magic and mystery? I really hope so. I hope it's a truly terrifyingly magical place.