This observation journal page was an exploration of what I like about “little woods and wildernesses” in art and stories and life, and as art and stories.
I’d found one on a walk — a stand of she-oaks in a flood reserve, dense and insular — which led to this page and the June 2020 calendar: Ominous Groves.
So I went in pursuit of the idea, in search of no grand conclusions (at this point) but trying, I suppose, to find the way in.
Their origins (for me): CS Lewis and Robert Frost and Frances Hodgson Burnett, Jane Austen and Susan Coolidge and Midsomer Murders, T. H. White, ballads and fairy-tales and home and backyards and parks and childhood. Not Tolkien, whose sense of forests is vast, but Baynes’ illustrations for Tolkien.
A few points:
- The pocket-sized-ness of them, and the way they fit into unexpected pockets of the world. (And their ornamental possibilities).
- Their closely-bound contradictions — pretty but wilderness, ornamental but feral, good but not tame, small but eternal, tiny but encompassing.
- The existence of an enclosed world, contained, self-possessed and possess-able, cut off from other concerns and yet full of its own rustling existence. Set apart from the outer world, in terms of light and shade, temperature and inhabitants and sound. Different from the staginess of more flamboyant settings, with which a grove might seem to have more in common.
- The necessity of finding a gate into them, and that they are (after all) bigger on the inside.
- Their function as a gate to other worlds — forest as psychopomp.
- Their opacity — their threats and secrets and how they function (small as they are) as a weighted point on the world.
- What they mean to time — separated from it, bending it, a place where time might be lost, or a treasury of lost time.
- What is beneath them — from what soil they grow, and what happens among their roots, and how they pin layers of time and worlds together.
- That they can function as a shorthand for stories (I realise this isn’t a novel idea, but I need to stumble into thoughts for myself) — their function and structure, metaphorically, but mostly their enchantment.
At the time I felt I hadn’t got very far with this look at groves (although the calendar is not nothing!). But in retrospect, particularly in the light of some projects I’m working on now, revisiting this page has brought several ideas (for and about stories) into focus.
And I do like them!
I read this post in the morning, then took a walk in the afternoon. A neighbor’s well-mulched island of four small specimen trees in complementary leaf shapes, colors, and growth patterns certainly qualified as an exquisite grove. But what would make it a small, magical wilderness? Hmmm, ferns maybe, something to blur the edges while staying contained … You’ve given me a whole new category of sights to watch for. Your posts are always lovely to look at and artistically stimulating. Thank you, thank you.
Thank YOU so much, Katherine! That is lovely to hear, and wonderful to contemplate. Here, the golden orb spiders are spinning gold-tinged webs that lace trees and leaves together, and it certainly feels a thing that brings an edge of wildness into the world.
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