Featured Story

Into the Woods

By Dianna Sinovic

[Note that’s displayed near the journal at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle]:

These pages were recovered in Lilliwaup, Washington, in 1934. According to Thomas Bowman, a local man who witnessed the event, the bundle of papers was dropped by a raven in flight. Bowman kept the pages in his possession until his death in 1999. Piecing together the time line, museum staff has determined that the account, attributed to hallucinations brought on by severe dehydration, was written by Sheldon Murphy, a self-proclaimed wanderer of the Pacific Northwest in the 1930s. His body was never found.

June 2

I have yet to enter the Forbidden Wood, choosing instead to interview local residents about the expanse before I set foot there. That seemed prudent because of the research I’d done before arriving on the Olympic Peninsula. From the people I’ve talked to over the last several days, my mission seems somewhat risky, if only that no one knows exactly what I face when I tread the mossy floor of that forest. They are only adamant that I will not return. I am impressed with this land—magnificent and lush—but I do feel it harbors a watchful spirit, perhaps malign. Tu-o-kiimag, in the Skokomish tongue.

Photo by Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash

Zachary Trant, from Wilmott, only a mile from the woods, talked at length about his grandparents who, he said, trapped and hunted the area but never ventured past the woods’ boundary, even when game was hard to come by. When I pressed him about their belief in the dangers, he simply said, “The forest swallows.” When I asked him if he’d ever set foot in the forest, he looked at me as though I’d asked him if he ate children.

June 14

It’s now been two weeks since I came to this place. Tomorrow I’ll make my first attempt at walking the mysterious tract. Marian Hemley gave me an amulet to wear. She lives on the property that lies next to Zachary’s and tried to dissuade me from exploring the Forbidden Wood. When she realized I would go there regardless of how many cautionary tales I heard—in fact, I’ll say the tales have only made me more eager to traipse through the land—she assembled this protective piece to hang around my neck. It appears made of feathers, tiny shards of glass, and a ribbon inscribed with symbols foreign to me. She said an odd thing: “Walk always; to halt is death.” She would not elaborate. “I’ve said too much already,” was her reply.

June 15 – morning

I’m going in today. Looking over the topographical map the U.S. Geological Survey gave me in Seattle, I’ve decided to make my first pass from the section of the woods that runs alongside Entrapment Road. If I should need to make a hasty exit, the road will be my landmark. If I am badly injured and can drag myself out, a passing cart driver can give me transportation to Doctor Peterson, over in Lilliwaup. I have already spoken with him about my plans, and he has provided a small bag of medicinal herbs and salves should I need them on my hike. Part of me feels reluctant to go forward with the endeavor, but that I am sure is due to the dozens of stories I’ve heard about the forest. Fear can eat at you, if you’re not careful, immobilizing you. I have faced down bears and mountain lions as I have explored this upper Northwest, and survived. I can do the same now.

June 15 – midafternoon

The sun has crossed its midpoint in the sky, as summer is only a week away. I have stopped to eat a snack of pemmican and take my bearings. I sit on a fallen log dotted with moss greener than I’ve seen anywhere else. It is the Olympic moisture that provides the nourishment for these flora, I’m sure. Other than that, the place is still. Odd that I hear no birdsong, no insect hum, despite the time of year. Only the whisper of a breeze singing through the needles of the fir trees that surround me. I plan to pitch my tent before the sun sets, but that still gives me several more hours of hiking. The compass that Zachary lent me seems to be broken, spinning in circles instead of settling on a true north. I must use the sun as my guidepost; it is an old friend that has led me out of mazes before. The small pieces of glass on my amulet catch the sun’s rays and cast flickers on the leaves above me.

June 25 – evening

I can only guess at the time since I wear no timepiece, but the sun has set. Clouds have rolled in, darkening my surroundings and I write this by lamplight. What an adventure today, and it is only the first of many, I am sure! No more than an hour after I made my last journal entry, I heard a raven’s croak above me. It was the first sign of animal life in these peculiar woods. The bird perched on a branch that might have been twenty feet overhead and looked down at me with such intelligent eyes. I stopped and set down my pack to better observe the bird. It dropped lower in the tree branches until it was quite close, perhaps only five or six feet away. I wondered at its intent and tried whistling to it. The bird shook its feathers and cawed again. I have heard many a raven on my travels but this was the first whose sounds resembled human speech. The croaks sounded like “walk, walk, walk.” I can only assume I was becoming befuddled after my many hours of hiking. It then flew to a tree deeper in the woods and croaked again, as if commanding me to follow.

And I did. It led me farther and farther into the forest, where the trees grow impossibly close and soar majestically to heights of two hundred feet or more. Such vibrancy of life! I can almost feel the tree sap running as the blood runs in my veins. I crossed two streams, the splashing water refreshing both for my throat and my face. And still the bird drew me on with its calls, always just ahead. When we reached this small clearing, I had to stop. I knew the day was ending and I would need to make camp to await tomorrow. The raven seemed to sense my decision and vanished into the dense canopy above me.

I have eaten more of the pemmican and some dried fruit. With no game to be seen, I hope my food will hold out until I am done here. Tomorrow I will use the sun to guide me farther northward. By the map I consulted before I left, I have maybe another two days’ trek ahead of me until I emerge on the other end of this woods.

June 27

I must get this down on paper for those who find me. My hands shake so badly that I find it difficult to hold the pen, but it must be done. Others must be warned. The forest is indeed alive and does not want me here. Was it only two days ago that I was joyously hiking through these woods, oblivious to its dangers? I look at the date I last wrote and cannot believe it is true. Surely I have been here a month—the time stretches somehow . . . [this last word is scrawled]

Let me begin again while I still have my strength or, more important, my sanity. The raven had led me to the clearing, and I planned to bed down there for the night. Hours later but still pitch dark beneath the fir trees, I was awakened by a sound. It was a moaning cry, full of anguish, maybe pain. Fully alert, I lit my lantern and crept from my bedroll. The clearing held no creature, so I ventured beyond, into the trees in the direction of the cry. I searched as best I could. I had left my crossbow with my pack. If I were attacked, all would be lost.

At last, after what seemed like hours, I found the source of the cry. God help me, it was a face—a kind of face, at least. Enmeshed in fir needles and cones, the thing contorted its mouth and howled at me. I stepped back in fright, so awful was its expression. When I turned to flee back to my makeshift camp, fir boughs blocked my path. Again and again I attempted to push through them, but they would not allow me passage. Exhausted, I remember collapsing to the ground, where I must have      fallen      asleep . . . [the last few words are scrawled]


[This final handwritten entry is very difficult to decipher. We have printed it here to make it easier to read.]

Don’t know when this is.

Am I still alive? Or is this hell?

The trees.

Want to escape.

Have tried.

They won’t let me. Never.

No food.

No water.


Black bird. On the ground beside me.

Eyes. It sees me.

Stays away from my grasp.

I will roll up my journal.

Message. Important.

It pecks at my amulet.

I push the trinket toward it.

Maybe the bird knows . . .

Top 10 factoids about trees

These are in no particular order or significance. With spring underway in this area, the trees are beginning to leaf out, bringing a welcome green to the landscape. Here are 10 interesting facts about trees.

1. Although you might think that the tree trunk you’re leaning against is packed full of water and nutrients flowing up and down, most of the trunk is dead tissue. Only the outside layers of a trunk are alive.

2. A tree’s age is written in its growth rings. Each year, a tree in a temperate climate forest adds two rings: one in the spring and one in the summer. The spring ring is usually wider than the summer ring.

3. The glorious leaf colors that tinge the autumn landscape are a part of the leaf throughout the spring and summer, but during the growing season, chlorophyl production is high. The green of the chlorophyl is reflected, and we see that color as the dominant one. In the fall, chlorophyl production plummets, and the oranges, reds and yellows step into the sunlight.

4. The ironwood tree is also called the American hophornbeam or the Eastern hophornbeam. It is one of the hardest of the hardwoods, and in the past was used to make tool handles.

5. The ash tree, now decimated in many parts of the U.S. because of the emerald ash borer, has a long history. In Norse mythology, the ash tree Yggdrasil was known as the “world tree” because of its importance to their way of life. In terms of utility, ash wood is flexible, allowing it to be fashioned into items such as walking sticks, bentwood chairs, and wagon wheels. The wood was also used in baseball bats.

6. The bark of some trees contains chemical properties with medicinal uses. Examples include the bark from cinchona (quinine to treat malaria), oak (an antiseptic), and willow (pain relief and anti-inflammatory qualities).

7. The world’s largest tree is the giant sequoia or redwood. Although these trees (some as tall as 325 feet, or 30 stories high) once grew throughout the U.S. and other parts of North America, they now are found only in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.

8. The apple tree holds a place in scientific history. Isaac Newton developed the theory of gravitation (in the 17th century) after supposedly seeing an apple fall from a tree and wondering why the fruit fell straight down instead of sideways. Gravitational force is what makes the apple fall downward, the same force that keeps your feet on the ground—and the Earth in orbit around the Sun.

9. The pawpaw tree produces the largest native edible fruit in North America. The pawpaw fruit is similar in taste to the banana, but looks like a small green potato.

10. Trees can communicate with one another, via an underground network of roots and fungi. Their communal, interdependent existence is similar to an insect colony.

Dianna Sinovic

Dianna Sinovic is a certified book coach and editor, and author of a number of short stories, in the genres of mystery, paranormal, and horror. She’s originally from Kansas City, Mo., but now lives in southeastern Pennsylvania. When she’s not writing, you can find her hiking or paddling her canoe.


  1. Loved reading your creation. So glad to have come across you and your craft.

  2. Your descriptions make me want to visit Nevada! We loved Joshua Tree on our February trip to California!

  3. This story For The Love Of Dottie had my attention from the start. So many themes to consider- aging, dementia, jealousy, love.
    A beautiful love story with a suspenseful mystery- I want to read more!

  4. Peter: Your story, Henry Smith’s Seasonings, was an enjoyable read. Being a foodie myself, my cupboards and drawers groan with spices, so it hit home. That home-smoked pastrami sounds awesome.

  5. Loved your story about Henry
    Smith’s spices but it left me wanting more story and HUNGRY!

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