Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fear of Forests

I am a huge proponent of a “Bigfoot Hunter” show. I believe that all of us city and suburban folk who would shiver and hide under our blankets while watching folks sitting in a dark camp at night, waiting for BF to show up and them running in a scattered chaos. Every branch snapping, every animal howling will make us startle and the hunters, no doubt, who are already on edge.

Movies have done a fair job of making the woods scary. Look at “Wizard of Oz” and “Princess Bride.” How about the wonderful 70s slasher woods movies involving Camp Crystal Lake and “Just Before Dawn”? How about those eco-angry films like “Day of the Animals” and “The Prophecy”? There are numerous Bigfoot tales and movies, as well as gems like “Cabin Fever” and “I Spit on Your Grave.”

Werewolves? Woods. Hansel and Gretel? Woods. Little Red Riding Hood? Woods.

Nyctohlophobia: Fear of dark wooded areas.
Dendrophobia: Fear of the trees in a forest.

Is it because it's not our territory but the animals? Is it because things are hidden from view even a few feet away from us? Is it because everything in the woods is a beast and therefore not reasoned with like fellow humans? Perhaps the woods represent the unknown. Whatever the reason for the fear of the forest, it is a common thing.

If you're ever attacked by a bear, it was almost surely in the forest. If someone killed you and wanted to hide the body, it was likely the forest they would choose. If you were to get lost and have your arm trapped by a boulder and be forced to cut it off with a pocketknife, the reporters would announce this occurred in the forest. If you fall down a rock face, are killed by an avalanche or are trapped by a raging fire, it was probably in the forest.

I have had a lot of scary things happen in the woods, but the one that haunts me the most was when I was camping up in the Sierras. We were up in the Sequoias. The most beautiful hike ever. We parked our van and the group climbed out and looked up at a park service board that showed pictures of what bears had done to cars and campsites. These were not pretty pictures. We then hiked a few thousand feet past beautiful huge redwoods and giant ferns into a magical forest. We set up camp for the night. We tied our food up in a tree so bears wouldn't come. I felt fairly good about that, but the nylon tent worried me. Then, someone laughingly said to me (I managed a clothing store and was a 1980s clothes hound and fashion freak) "I hope you aren't wearing mousse with a fruity scent in your hair. The bears will go to you first." I crammed myself and my peach-scented hair deep into the sleeping bag and shivered as I listened to every sound outside. I never slept. As the campfire still glowed and the folks sleeping in the open around it kept feeding it wood during the night, I could see the shadows against the tent. I waited for the shape of a bear, certain it would come. Then, I heard one of the men near the fire grumbling. "Oh, it's a bear. Damn! A bear. Why? Why me?" He kept mumbling about the bear and I held the flashlight in my hand ready to hit the bear and scooted to the center of the tent, quaking for my life. The bear never came, but the sunlight did. In the morning, one of the campers laughed at the man who was mumbling about a bear all night. "I had no idea you could talk in your sleep. I know what you were dreaming about." Weary, I sank down near the dying fire and glared at the man who smiled sheepishly.

So, what happened to you in the woods that unsettled you?


  1. I got lost in the forest once. My advise: Don't go wondering off alone, especially at nighttime.

  2. Hey SOMS. Oh my! Then, an upcoming post on my author's blog about me being alone in the forest is probably going to unsettle you. :-) I got lost a bunch of times as a kid and I remember getting rather hysterical. I have a real respect for it now and I also don't think I'd go without a GPS device.

  3. One time, when I was little, we went camping, and we all woke to the sound of my mom yelling to my dad "THERE'S A BIG RACCOON IN THE TENT!!" Said critter had been licking her face.

  4. Ew! That would be nasty, HN. Still, knowing me, I would have gotten a picture before pulling the critter away. My ex fell through the ceiling from the attic one time, he was straddling a beam and I was laughing my ass off to see his legs dangling through the ceiling. I have a perverse reaction to the unexpected.

  5. Anywhere dark and mysterious can be intimidating for people to infiltrate, but the woods have the added attraction (or is it a DE-traction?) of having various critters scurrying about.

    Luckily many of them are vegetarian and want nothing to do with people, plus few are actually large enough to do a person any real harm.

    But it only takes ONE of the other kind to spoil your day.

    (And don't even get me started about the poisonous ones, or skunks!)

    But don't get me wrong - I dig going into the forest, I just prefer to do so in daylight. :)

  6. I camped out with my friend that stole my snack late at night. and he ate my marshmallow.

  7. Eric;
    I really prefer the woods at night. Much more mystery.

    You crazy city boy! You sure that didn't happen in Central Park?

  8. my cousin went on a camping trip with his boy scout troup and got separated from them and had to spend the night in the woods by himself....they ended up finding him in the morning but that is exactly the reason I don't go camping!

  9. ULS12;
    Yeah. That does make a good case for it. I have to admit, I like the concept of camping, but I'd rather be in a cabin. I feel really vulnerable sleeping in a tent while any stranger can come and bug you in the middle of nowhere like something out of "The Strangers."

  10. Hmmmm...I can honestly say I've never been afraid in the woods "proper." Even in Girl Scout Camp I was fine.

    NOW...although I haven't been alone in one or even in one with others and shouldn't be in there....THE SWAMP! Yeah, a SWAMP scares me more. You see, I have a fear of Alligators. I think they are amazing creatures, but I have had dreams of them coming after me and/or I'm lying on the ground and they come up behind/over me and I can hear their "growl." I am sure I will be snatched under the swampy water by a gator! ...UGH! Like sharks they are PURE PREDATORS. Nothing in their eyes except "kill". .......Something new you now know about me and can tease me about!

  11. Lil Sis;
    Yes, I totally get you on the fear of swamps. Our summer home was in the swamp area and it was full of strange stuff including weird swamp lights. I think it's so biologically alive that everything inside of us senses it. Of course, gators add a new dimension! I admit to loving the woods, obviously (Autumnforest) but I do have a healthy fear of bears.

  12. Adrian;
    I'm a bit steampunk. I have an old brass one hanging from my purse.

  13. bears usually make me angry while camping. i usually camp at Sequoia park few times a year and bastards lurk around the campground poking in the trash and looking for food.

  14. Echo;
    They are a real nuisance there. Did a lot of hiking and camping in the Sierras. I quit doing it after the group didn't tell me we were hiking to 11,000 feet to Baboon Lake. I got altitude sickness. My eyes swelled shut and I was vomiting. Not a pleasurable trip at all. I begged out of the next trip. The next one? They went to the top of San Ysidro and hiked and camped in snow. No thank you.

  15. The woods scare me more than a "haunted house".

  16. I have tp say this post caught me off guard. It is super hard to picture you afraid of anything!!! Forests are not places that strike fear in my heart. I would say sometimes they can feel uncomfortable though. I get to feeling sort of claustrophobic, especially if they're dense. But I grew up roaming the woods on our mountain property so mostly they feel like a playground to me.

  17. I think nights in the forest are some of my favorite things in the world. Though like the caves you discussed previously, some patches of woods DO feel more menacing than others. It could be that trees absorb residual psychic energy much the same way quartz does? It would explain why the ancient druids and other pagan groups considered certain groves to be sacred.

  18. I wrote the post because there are a lot of movies and stories built around what mysteries are held in the forest. Now, I wouldn't be Autumnforest without adoring the woods. Whenever I go visit my family in the hills of West Virginia, I take off into the woods by myself. I go in the dark too and use no light. I love to face it head on and have to make my senses super alert in the near blackness to find my way out. In my "alone" series at the top of the page, there's one entry that is alone in the woods at nighttime. I am a bit of an adrenalin nut. Admittedly, camping in bear territory, I'm not a happy camper, but I actually fear strangers coming upon my camp more than bears.

  19. Well i was 24 when i moved out of the city to where i am now in the country,house surrounded by forest.Wow the first night it was black wi the light out.I'd grown up wi the orange glow of the streetlights comin thru the window.I ran out of petrol 3 miles from home soon after n had to walk.A grown man half mad with fear but of what,that was well b4 i saw my big cat !!!.I've loved woods from a kid.There mystical n magical and didnt take me long to feel at home in the forest even on a moonless,dark night.I truthfully i'd be on edge n wary walking thru Inverness at night as there real possibility of being stabbed or getting a broken bottle in the face for no good reason,i feel safer out in the pitch black woods than under the streetlights



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