Otto Marseus van Shrieck, A Forest Floor Still Life, 1666

Otto_Marseus_van_Schrieck_-_A_Forest_Floor_Still-Life_-_WGA21061

Children the world over have long been told tales about the sinister magic of the forest at night. Stories about witches and hungry wolves and beady-eyed raptors. Stories about darkness swallowing up all traces of goodness. Stories about the innocent entering into the woods never to be seen again. These stories are quickly followed up with assurances: “It’s only make believe, my sweet.”

But what lies you tell your children! For the forest is indeed a writhing mass of “sinister magic,” of all of those things you adults cannot control: The oozing of spores into the humid air. The decomposition of leaves and bark and dead forest creatures. The emergence of nocturnal animals who thrive in the very places where you are vulnerable—in the dark and in wild and craggy spaces. You are not in control, and so you try to make light of our world.

What frightens you is the fact that, as darkness descends, the gilded radiance of the tree leaves ceases and is replaced by a deep blue opacity. The fact that the cheerful melodies of the birds slowly fade away and are gradually replaced by intermittent squawks, hoots, and wails. The fact that the gentle rustling of  leaves in the breeze takes on a sharp and menacing tone.

The night is not yours, and so you try to make it fantastical. The realm of witches and ghosts. We are here to remind you that we are indeed quite real, us snakes and moths, toads and beetles, mushrooms and snails. In the darkness we grow and we procreate and we hunt and we die. We repair what has been beaten down by the sun and the wind and the intrusions of daytime creatures. This is our world. And we celebrate that you are not comfortable here. We celebrate that our world has no place for you and is therefore one of the world’s only truly innocent places.

 

 

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