Unnerved to the Core

Being in the woods can stir up interesting things inside a person. In today’s reading, “Unnerved to the Core” (CUA Primer, page 5), Bill Bryson tries to capture in words what it is like to be in the woods. Can you describe a time that you experienced the kinds of things that Bryson talks about?

Photo: “forest at midnigth” (sic) by Sascha B is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Ethan Blanchard says:

    I’ve never felt like I’ve been watched in the woods. The lack of humans makes me feel alone which I think is the importance of spending time in nature. Being alone allows one to think independently of the myriad of distractions permeating our digital age.

    The downside is the lack of purpose or legacy (to relate to “My Expectation”). Since nothing in nature is sapient, nothing can give you purpose or placement. If one asked a tree, river, or squirrel what their meaning in life or place in the universe is, there wouldn’t be a response. Only our fellow humans can react, communicate, and appreciate our own efforts; which is perhaps why many people don’t like to be alone in dense forest for too long.

  2. Gerard Rode says:

    The woods could be symbolic to life of a human being. The “critters” that watch us are the struggles of life that every human must overcome (Paying bills, depression, feeling alone, etc.).
    I believe everyone has been lost and watched in the woods at some point in their life, some people escape that feeling quicker than others.

  3. John Gaudreau says:

    Bryson’s description of somebody feeling vulnerable and under observation while going through life’s challenges is a feeling that I can relate to. I can get this same feeling of being “under the microscope” when I am partaking in several everyday tasks. Whether that is working long hard hours at my summer job or preparing myself for a new setting like college, I can feel as if my every move is being observed and recorded.
    However, while Bryson seems to highlight on a person’s fear of the woods, I find the woods to have quite the opposite effect on me. In fact, I find that while I do sense myself being watched while outdoors, it is more of a self-assuring and closure giving watchfulness. Nature is one of the few places beyond my faith and family where I can find an overwhelming sense of peace and tranquility in chaotic times.

  4. Jaesen Evangelista says:

    The woods is definitely…DEFINITELY a creepy place, I agree. I mean, come on Friday the 13th? Especially at night, the woods is basically a place for many things to hide and come out without anyone realizing it–that’s creepy. However, I can understand from my peers that the woods (and nature in general) can be a relaxing place to unwind and let go of stress…but only in the day time, if you ask me.

    I think, the only time I’ve been “unnerved to the core” is when I was walking home one night alone in my neighborhood. It was late and my neighborhood is pretty safe, so I decided it was okay to take a quick midnight stroll. It was so quiet and the only lights that were on were the street lights. Not even the dogs were barking at this time. I knew my neighborhood was safe and yet, when I started walking, I felt really chilly–it wasn’t even hot though. I kept looking over my shoulder to check if anyone was following me. I jumped whenever I heard the rustling of the leaves or a bird flying from a tree. It was just so creepy. I was, to be completely honest, only a couple steps away from my house, but I ran back to the front door. After a couple minutes or so outside I just had to go back inside. So I can totally relate to Thoreau in the woods. Even though a place may seem safe or be labeled as a safe place, you can’t shake off that feeling of always checking to make sure you’re all alone.

  5. Sophia Ferraro says:

    The Girl Scout in me is screaming: “THIS IS PREPOSTEROUS”. I love the woods! I really don’t like the bugs that live in the woods, but the woods themselves are fine. I’ve been to the wilderness. I’ve seen how dark and dense the woods can be, and I don’t feel afraid. Maybe because I had a pack full of camping gear on my back. Maybe its because I have always been engaged with nature (despite the relative tameness of that nature). Ive had moments of fear. Ive had worries or doubts and have been startled. But Bill here is missing the good that lives in even the darkest of woods, and I think it is a shame that he discredits them so.

  6. Elise Parker says:

    I recently stayed deep in the Mayan Jungle in the middle of Mexico for a week on a mission trip. In the small village that I was in, there were four roads, a small corner store, a playground in the center of town, and lots of woods all around. Throughout the week, the other missioners and I had time to work, play with the children, explore, pray, and think. In the middle of the jungle, especially at night, with the sounds of many different wild animals all around, it was surreal. There was no reception so each moment of silence acted as a time to reflect, and there was a lot of silence. Walking through the jungle, at times with no trail to follow, was a great reality check from my normal life and even the woods near my house that I venture into at times. It, as Bryson explained, truly, “makes you sense an atmosphere of pregnant doom with every step and leaves you profoundly aware that you are out of your element…” (para 2). The silence can be scary, or creepy, when viewed in a movie, or when not in the right mind set. Yet, for me, these new surroundings became a great place to get to know myself deeper. The silence from around me allowed me to hear my vocational call, the voice of God’s will, more clearly.

  7. Ana Volz says:

    “Henry David Thoreau thought nature was splendid, splendid indeed, so long as he could stroll to town for cakes and barley wine, but when he experienced real wilderness…he was unnerved to the core. This wasn’t the tame world of overgrown orchards and sun-dappled paths that passed for wilderness in suburban Concord, Massachusetts, but a forbidding, oppressive, primeval country…”

    It’s true that I don’t entirely relate to the feeling of being “unnerved to the core” when I’m out in the woods. My experience of nature is peaceful and refreshing. But I must admit that the outdoors I spend time in are probably equivalent to the “overgrown orchards and sun-dappled paths” of suburban Concord, as mentioned in the readings. Even the hikes and trailheads I’ve walked–of which there are many in Oregon–are mostly public and well-traveled paths.

    There is only one time that I can remember actually feeling frightened in a wood. It happened a couple summers ago when a group of friends and I climbed the 10,385 foot dormant volcano in Central Oregon, South Sister. The 11.8 mile trek took us all day to complete. On the way back down, a few girls who hadn’t worn the best shoes were limping along in pain. I stayed behind to help for a while. When another girl replaced me, I walked ahead meaning to catch up with the group in front.

    The sun was setting. It was quiet and peaceful. This far down the mountain, this late, there were few hikers. There was no sign of the group that had seemed to be just ahead. I kept up my courage for a while, but soon I was entirely alone in the deepening dusk. My vulnerability impressed itself upon me. I had no water and only a little granola left in my pack. I had no cell phone connection. If I shouted, my voice would be quickly lost on the great mountainside. Wild animals? I knew there were bear and cougar and mountain lions in these woods. What if…? I began to sing and skip and run along the steep, rocky downward slope. The more miles dragged on…

    Presently I heard human voices ahead. But not those of my friends. They were making their way UP the mountain. At this time of night? It was nearly seven o’clock! Should I be scared or relieved? Soon our paths crossed. I was definitely scared. Two men and a woman in dark clothing with dyed hair, covered in piercings and tattoos. They didn’t smile or greet me as I passed, although they made eye contact. I hurried on, singing at the top of my lungs once I was out of sight. I heard loud mocking laughter behind me, but pushed on. A few more bends… Would this mountain ever come to an end? Had I missed the trailhead and gone along some other path leading God knows where?…

    A few moments later I heard the creek and knew I was close. Within minutes I was greeting the rest of our group and hurrying to the car, off to the campground for a long overdue dinner.

    This experience makes me think there is something about wild nature, untouched as it is by human hands and minds, which brings out our smallness and vulnerability in a particularly potent way.

  8. Jessica McCarthy says:

    When reading this passage, I thought the woods were a representation of life. Meaning, in the woods, you hear sounds that may scare you and unnerve you, but in life not knowing what is coming at you next can be nerve-racking. I experience the kinds of things that Bryson talks about when I had to babysat for the first time. It was nerve-racking because I knew everything I had to do if faced with a situation but there was not a playbook for the evening. I didn’t know if a situation would come my way while babysitting. I knew the children I was babysitting for were safe throughout the whole night, however paranoia can run through one’s mind when experiencing something for the first time.

  9. Diego Amaya says:

    I always go running in Rock creek park, and when I run I always hear the sounds of many animals and I always wonder if they are looking at me. So I never really feel alone. But when the woods are quiet, I feel a sense of peace.

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