Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Lorraine Wilson’s nonfiction piece, Let The Trees Remember
Sommer: I love the presence of the ghost in this piece, and its firm attachment to the forest. What are some other strange things you’ve seen? And do you think these “strangenesses” tend to accumulate in nature?
Lorraine: I am very fond of this ghost too; he moved me so much and has stayed with me even though I met him a long time ago. But what other strange things have I encountered? Honestly that’s really hard to answer. Being an ecologist, my time in the wilderness came with quite detailed knowledge, so perhaps things that would have been unfathomable to some, were ‘fathomable’ to me. I do remember a more mundane but inexplicable moment: whilst house-hunting in Northern Wales, my husband and I went to a village we’d not visited before. The moment I stepped out of the car, the place terrified me, especially the (beautiful) water-meadows beside it. I was so spooked that we didn’t even stay to view the house. It was only later that I discovered there had been a battle there hundreds of years ago. Perhaps their blood lingered in the meadows, still echoing pain and terror, I don’t know.
As for these strangenesses accumulating in nature…I think they do, not because nature is full of ghosts, but because we are more open to wonder when we are in wild places. The modern world exposes us to a constant deluge of noise; it regiments our vision and stifles our sense of smell. I think being somewhere so removed from that makes us alert to our senses again; we actually pay attention to everything around us rather than filtering it out.
Truthfully, the wilderness is not motivated and inundated by magic, but by the simple, strong insistence on life. Everything, through chemistry and biology, is just trying to live. And yet it does seem magical. Why do you think humans continue to see and write magic into the wilderness? And isn’t there a little bit of fear there too?
I think there is definitely some element of fear, both old and new. A lot of folklore and mythology probably stemmed from a need to understand things beyond our ken. Knowing what lightning is makes it less scary, whether angry god or electrical discharge. But also, we are not particularly well evolved for standing alone in a forest at night; it can be frightening to be so powerless.
Another aspect to our fascination for wild places comes, I think, from the need to belong. We used to belong in those places but now we don’t, and we’re aware that we have become thieves. I know that some of my most treasured memories are not the dramatic or the frightening, but instead moments when I became “background.” A coati foraging for frogs around my feet, lemurs sunning themselves on my tent, a python using me as a nice warm spot to sleep. I think a part of us misses being connected to that, and is always searching for it.
As I said before though, I think our stories, and our abiding fascination with the wilderness is rooted in wonder. We are an inquisitive species, and we’ve come to expect explanations whenever we demand them. But nature only ever gives us glimpses, doesn’t it? So we are always left with mystery, wanting more.
The forests in your piece cannot speak of the horrible loss of life, the torture and evilness that occurred within them. Your writing gives them a voice, a consciousness. Yet couldn’t it also be the case that nature just doesn’t give a damn?
Nature definitely doesn’t care one way or the other for the heartbreak in our history. The dead were just a resource like any other. It is in knowing the human history of a site, wild or not, that we sense resonance, isn’t it? Empathy imbued into place. But then again, forests take life from the dead, so it’s not that far a stretch to think of the cells and memories of our human dead still living in the branches of an oak tree, a spider’s web, birdsong. I love this idea, which I suppose is why I write it!
What are some of your favorite places of wilderness on the planet?
Oh my word, so many! The dry forests of western Madagascar. I don’t really know why that part of Madagascar more than others, but I felt so at home there. Neotropical rainforest, because rainforest! Patagonia, because it’s so harsh and yet brimming with the most amazing life (and the world’s ugliest sheep). But I live on a beautiful stretch of coast in Scotland, and although it’s nowhere near warm enough, this country always seems to pull me back.
What are you working on these days?
I’m in the middle of editing a new novel. It’s based on a small island whose people are confronting the effects of climate change and their own potential extinction. It’s about identity, I guess, and I’ve been told off by my family for once again failing to write a cheerful story!
Do you have any advice for writers on handling rejection?
Umm…no? Seriously, they say develop a thick skin, but I think complete armour plating is impossible so don’t expect it of yourself. Allow yourself a wee cry/sulk/rage, and then either process any feedback or write something new. A supportive group of writing friends is such an incredible help too. Go out and find one of those, if you can.
Thank you for doing this interview with me, and congratulations!
Thank you! I am absolutely delighted that you chose to publish a piece of writing that means so much to me.