Wild About Utah: Haunted in the Forest

When life scares you, what do you do? As we increasingly consider mental and emotional health issues and strategies, I find my answer is that I go into the forest. Of course, I also go there when things are going well, but I agree with Henry David Thoreau when he wrote: “When I would like to recreate myself, I seek the darkest wood. He actually recommended the ‘gloomiest swamp’, but that’s a bit too slimy for me. I will stick to solid ground.

A few weeks ago, I spotted a bat hanging from the bricks of my porch as I stared at the moon as I instructed my young students to do. It reminded me of how in Janell Cannon’s “Stellaluna” picture book, a young bat survives the attacks of a predatory owl, falling “down, down…faster and faster. , in the forest below”. She clings to a branch until her strength runs out, then “down, again she fell” in an unlikely situation. Bats and harvest moons are iconic figures of this season, and as I ventured out for a sanity walk in Cache National Forest, everywhere I looked I saw more of them.

The autumn forests are full of spooky scenes, and I was first struck by horrifying sap bleeding from a gaping evergreen canker. The seeping yellow slime looked beautiful in a way. I don’t remember being so captivated by an injured plant, and because I was lingering, I also spotted a chrysalis containing a caterpillar costume change on a nearby tree. Next to it were the wizarding remains of other withering forbs.

Beneath my hiking boots was a jaw full of grinning teeth amid fragile leaf skeletons strewn across the forest floor. Even as I traded in the cobwebs I didn’t see until it was too late, the eerie beauty of nature eased the tormenting cares in my life. There is a Chinese proverb that says, “You can only go halfway through the darkest forest; then you come out the other side.

A good walk outside is great for the distressed heart and mind. I needed to find the unlikely power of fall icons. As Mary Shelley wrote for Frankenstein, “Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful. The next time you’re scared of the unknown or scarred by realities, consider falling into a forest.


Images: courtesy and copyright of Shannon Rhodes, photographer

Audio credit: Anderson, Howe, Wakeman

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

Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Further reading:

Canon, 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.

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