Michael: Thank you so much for sharing this story of oneness with the woods. I made an immediate, visceral connection with “Written in the Book of the Woods” of a kind I haven’t often experienced reading fiction, and not for a very long time. I hope it has something like the same effect on everyone else who reads it, which is why I put it last in Reckoning 1: I wanted that feeling of home repeated at beginning and end to be what people take away. “I have never been lost in the woods and I am not lost now.” I know that’s a lot to ask. Everybody’s different, everyone experiences the natural world differently. Frankly, it surprised me that this story got to me this way, since I’ve never been to Michigan’s upper peninsula and I’ve never seen Lake Superior. The woods that feel like home to me are all in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire. Which is why I want to ask you about your own experience of nature, to hopefully try and understand what is and isn’t universal about this.
How autobiographical is the depiction of nature in “Written in the Book of the Woods”? Is this, as it feels, a place you know intimately? Is it a place you think of as home?
Lisa: I always feel at home in the woods. There have been times that I feels as if I could slip into the woods, a simple parting of the veil. In the woods, I feel the most present, whatever the season. It’s the fecund smell, the feel of the air, the softness of the lines — bending branches, flowing water, round rocks.
Michael: What about the way you depict time? That part, too, is eerily familiar to me, when I’m alone in the woods, the sun seeming to freeze in place, time seeming to stop or repeat. If that’s something you’ve actually experienced––where do you think it comes from?
Lisa: I’m fascinated by the way most humans conceptualize time. Toward the end of her life, my grandmother had lost her short term memory. One holiday, I plopped down next to her and she said, “My dear! How is it going?” For the next half hour, I regaled her with all I was doing; my college classes, how much I liked my new apartment, my little car, and my love interest. When I stopped to catch my breath, Grandma blinked, peered at me uncertainly and then smiled, saying, “My dear! How is it going?”
We live moment by moment, like beads on a string. But I like to imagine the string cut, or folded into pretty loops. In the woods, it’s so easy to seep into the time stream of “this moment,” and just float within that single bead. You may think at first that a moment is tiny, but if you let it, it can take in all of creation.
Michael: There are three figures in the woods of the story: the dark thing, the narrator, and the woman in the light. One way I can interpret them is as different aspects of the narrator’s relationship with the woods; another is as representative of humanity’s interaction with nature more broadly. What do they mean to you? Is there any particular myth you drew from to shape those figures?
Lisa: I’m what I’d call a back of the brain writer. Most of the time I go into a bit of a fugue state when I write, and the words pour out from the void. After it’s written, I can usually tell from what part of me it came from, but honestly, writing is not something that I do from an outline. Like anyone who knows themselves well enough to decode their dreamscape, I can look at my writing after it’s on the page and, for the most part, figure it out well enough to build it into a coherent story.
How I interpret a story depends on the day. Sometimes I see the three characters as different elements of we humans: bright lovingness and wonder; self-serving loveless destroyer; and the outsider judge and protector. All of these are parts of myself, parts of all of us, I think.
Sometimes when I read this story, I see the characters as how humans or societies interact with nature
Michael: How does anyone come to feel at home in the woods–enough to feel responsible for defending them?
Lisa: You don’t need to feel at home in wild places to feel responsible for defending wild places. You only need to read a bit of the science, because we know that the survival of our species depends on a healthy environment, and that includes a varied biome. We know this; it’s not a matter of belief.
What happens is that we get caught up in life, you know? And if someone lives far from wild places, or if wild places are unfamiliar and scary, then they might not take that need for a varied biome into consideration when living their busy, time-stressed lives.
We, all of us, have to put it out there. We have to care enough about the continuation of the species to do what is necessary for life.