I’m reading quite an interesting book at the moment (A Book of Silence - Sara Maitland), in which the author makes a visit to the Caledonian Forest because she is interested in the different experiences of silence that can be found in nature, and she’s never experienced silence in the forest before. She admits the reason she’s never done so is because she is scared of the forest.
I find her brief account of her experience absolutely fascinating, because it is so opposite to my own. In brief, she describes how she was right to be scared, that it is an unsettling, primal place full of mystery and ancient cultural fears. She even describes the stillness as ‘sinister’ at one point. I am of course not saying she is wrong. Experience of the wilderness is subjective, but it is so interesting, and so alien in a way, for me to hear this landscape described that way. When I go to the forest I do not feel enveloped, but embraced. I find the silence peaceful and sacred, not dense. Where she describes the trees as strangely distorted I see only grace. The forest does not, in my opinion, block the sunlight and obscure the view. It catches the light, and holds it. Where she says that forests give no sense of space, I feel that nowhere else gives as much - nowhere else lavishes distance with such definition.
To be clear, the impression she creates is not an overwhelmingly negative one as my selective comments above might imply. I don’t really see the forest in terms of positives and negatives (you must simply always acknowledge and live by its rules when you are there). But the way we each respond so emotively and differently is quite remarkable. I have seen other writers also mention a supposed primal cultural bias against forests - that in our ancient past it was a place of danger and fear, to be driven back and conquered. I’m not convinced. I believe the forest is one of the most human landscapes of all.