“A complex universe of meanings” – anthropological perspectives on the forest

The forest is much more than what is visible on the surface. Thinking about the resilience of future forests one has to remember that for contemporary societies a forest is ‘a complex universe of meanings’. The role of woodlands expands beyond their environmental functions and touches such crucial issues like identity. Trees, forests and green spaces contribute to a sense of belonging, create bounds with place and develop feelings of attachment to a space. The history of forests is always entangled with a history of people who live upon them: foresters, local residents, visitors from cities, ‘ordinary people’. In many countries forests play a significant role in the national culture. There is a conviction about the joint spirit and history manifested in trees and national nature cared for by previous generations. It is believed that the past of a society can be traced in the textures of the land. As a result, trees are not just supposed to grow, but very often they should teach us how and what to remember.

My essay “Trees that must remember” tells a story of the relation between the memory and trees on the example of Polish forests. From my anthropological point of view I am demonstrating how in the contemporary society cultivating nature can at the same time become managing a memory. Based on examples from local forests my essay describes how the forest itself is turned into the synonym for the fatherland and national heritage. In present-day states, natural spaces, including forests, are places where the national myth is played out.