Comparing Woods and Forests

The funny thing about Hawaiʻi is that we donʻt have “woods.” We have forests: dry forests, wet forests, extra-wet forests, perpetually raining forests.  (We do have the wettest spot on earth here, high on the mountain top of  Waiʻaleʻale on the island of Kauaʻi.) This is what a wet forest nearby looks like.  Mostly giant ferns and small shrubberies, with a canopy of ohiʻa lehua (Metrosideros collina).  It looks just like that pretty much all year long.

Iʻm not sure why we donʻt have woods in Hawaiʻi.  For one thing, itʻs just not a word that people use.  No one says: “Iʻm going for a walk in the woods.”  So it may be simply a linguistic peculiarity.  But it feels deeper than that.  Maybe  you need a temperate climate with its annual cycles and its interplay of animals and plants throughout the year for that feeling of a woods to develop.   Maybe itʻs because the kind of landscape that would make a woods  – a relatively open sort of forest through which one could walk at will – is both rare and non-native here.   You have to make such a landscape with either labor or pastured animals.  Maybe itʻs simply because these islands are  too young geologically (only a few million years) to have developed such a storied kind of being as a wildwood.

One Reply to “Comparing Woods and Forests”

  1. Michelle,
    I hadn’t thought about the term woods being a regional word. I looked it up and found that the “woods” referred to smaller less compact area of trees, usually near a farm or village. “Forest” referred to large tracts of tree covered land usually preserved for the king or lord of the manor. The term is old English and dates back to 12c. or even earlier if you look at the long list of spellings for the word.
    I also hadn’t really thought about how climate affects the development of forest or woods. Rain forests are known for their massive vine growth and multi-layered canopies. Looking at the photo above I can see why one wouldn’t think about going for a walk in the ‘woods’.

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