I grew up in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The forests there are beautiful, sprawling things with spruce and pine and aspens. When it warms up, the dry heat makes the pine sap fragrant, like a candle but way better.
So at one point in time, I’m not sure when it was, when I was reading a critique about someone’s writing, I was confused by the critique. The person stated that he hated scenes where a person is running through the forest, trying to escape something. His argument was that forests have too much undergrowth for this to work. There’s too much to hack at or get tangled in.
In Colorado, the forests have a ton of open space. Yes, there’s undergrowth, but it’s junipers and aspen sprouts and other bushes. Running through the forest is completely feasible there.
It wasn’t until I moved to Washington and got to explore the state’s gorgeous evergreen forests that I realized how different forests can be. Forest is a very generic term, and depending on your exposure, you might be imagining a very different environment.
Washington’s forests are full of grand furs, pines, douglas furs, sitka spruces and so much more. There’s a temperate rainforest in the state where moss grows thick on things and the trees grow to massive heights. The forest smells like damp wood and evergreen needles. I began to understand, a little, where the critique was coming from. But running through the forest there was still feasible, just a bit more difficult.
Then I moved to South Carolina. Umm, let’s just say things grow so fast down here you can almost see it happening. We cut down a few black walnut trees this last spring and they’re trying to regrow already. Their sprouts are past my waist and the giant limb we trimmed off another oak looks like it’s got a pompom growing out the stump now.
When you head out into the forest here, it’s not just the trees that are growing everywhere. Some say the kudzu vine is trying to eat the south. It might kinda be true, but it’s not the only vine growing down here. (Poison ivy anyone?). Besides the pines – if you haven’t noticed, pines are everywhere in the US – and the oaks and maples and walnuts and mimosas and crepe myrtle trees, there are ferns and vines and bushes and…let’s just say not only would it be hard to run through these forests, you might not want to because there are definitely things that bite back.
Again, the forests here smell different too. There’s so much humidity that everything’s damp. Add to that the swamps and you get the moldering, musty smell of things decomposing, or the earthy scent of disturbed earth and vegetation. Or when the trees are flowering, the heady perfume of mimosas or magnolias. I now understand.
In a much briefer experience, I went four wheeling in a forest in Minnesota once too. You could walk five steps, look back, and have no idea where you came from.
I love these differences and I honestly can’t say if I have a favorite kind of forest. But all of these are great fodder for scene building. For those of you who have read Quaking Soul, you now know where a great deal of my scenes came from.