Writer and activist Anthony Douglas Williams once said, “I would rather be amongst forest animals and the sound of nature, than amongst city traffic and the noise of man.” To that, I say “Why can’t we have both?”
We’ve all been there, trying so hard to remember every single item on your packing list for your National Forest visit that you forget the tunes. Or maybe you want to dissociate and lay in the middle of your floor with headphones in, pretending there’s National Forest dirt beneath your feet. No matter which camp you’re in, we have the mix for you.
I Have Considered the Lilies — Connie Converse
When you’ve got the outdoor adventure bug, it’s hard to shake it. I’ve had many situations where one glimpse of a sleeping bag in the basement or a bountiful garden makes me itch for a forest hike. This track from Connie Converse, a once-forgotten gem of an artist who receded into obscurity until her archival recordings were found in the 2000s, reminds me of the variety of wildflowers you can find in our National Forests. Once you consider the lilies who “never toil, they only bloom”, you’ll be pining to frolic in a field by the time the song is over.
Sage Up — Xiuhtezcatl ft. Matene Strikes-First, stic.man, and DJ Cavem Moetavation
If you don’t know Xiuhtezcatl’s music, now you know. An indigenous climate activist, Xiuhtezcatl has been speaking about climate change and racial injustice since he was six years old and this track is no exception. With lines like “Cracked earth sacred water scarce / Better cherish it” and his ability to weave between English and Spanish, Xiuhtezcatl is a creative force to be reckoned with. To me, his music and activism is a constant reminder to research the ancestral lands that I plan to visit. Websites like native-land.ca can help you learn more about the tribes that inhabited the lands on which our National Forests currently reside.
A Forest — The Cure
Imagine. You’re running in a forest, a reverb-laced guitar comes seemingly out of nowhere. Suddenly, those classic 80s drums kick in and behind you is The Cure frontman Robert Smith. While this may sound like an 80s goth dream (or nightmare), you can experience this first hand by listening to this cut from The Cure’s 1980 album Seventeen Seconds. Smith’s vocals about running into the trees to look for what turns out to be a ghost wind throughout the hypnotic instrumentals. I wouldn’t say this is a nighttime listen unless you’re an adrenaline seeker and want the Ghosts of 80’s past to visit you in your sleep.
I Wish I Knew — Sharon Van Etten
I am notorious for forgetting things on trips. Really basic things too, like food or water or shelter. Thankfully, Sharon Van Etten is in the same boat. While she is likely singing to a love interest, her steady acoustic guitar coupled with lyrics like “I wish / We could just run around / And only worry / About right now” channel the feeling of not worrying about what we forgot. Who cares if we don’t have anything to eat? The forest will help us photosynthesize!
Woods — Bon Iver
Some may know this song from Kanye West’s sample on “Lost in the Woods”. For others, this may be their first introduction to this song or even Bon Iver as an artist. If so, I’m glad you heard it from me that Bon Iver is a genius. His ability to recreate the feeling of an echoing forest with only his autotuned voice is a testament to his vocal chops and arrangement prowess. As the composition grows and grows, we get more textures and echoes that lend themselves perfectly to a forest listen.
Sunrise — Norah Jones
There aren’t many songs like “Sunrise” in the world. I’m so happy this one exists. What I wouldn’t do to hear Jones’ voice singing the line “Sunrise, sunrise / Looks like mornin' in your eyes” as I wake up to the morning sun beaming through the trees. Everything about this song is begging to be on this mix. I had to oblige.
seven — Taylor Swift
Cottagecore. The aesthetic of a clothesline full of handmade garments, a pond to swim in, and tea. Everyone (including TikTok) is talking about it and I’d be remiss if I didn’t put a song from Taylor Swift’s new album folklore on this mix. With mentions of swinging into a creek, sweet tea, and love being “passed down like folk songs”, this song is absolutely perfect for a forest adventure. Find your swimming hole, channel your inner (and outer) Swiftie, and bask in the glory of the natural world around you.
Wilderness — Sleater Kinney
Okay. I’ll admit it. This song’s lyrics don’t have much to do with being in a forest but the song is called “Wilderness”, it’s from the album The Woods, and Sleater Kinney is one of the best bands of all time. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
A Huge Tree in the Tsukamori Forest — Joe Hisaishi
The twinkling, the strings, everything about this track from Joe Hisaishi’s My Neighbor Totoro score says “please listen to me in a forest.” Even when the drums kick in, it feels like a triumphant moment in a natural setting. Hisaishi composed the scores for all but one of Hayao Miyazaki’s films and is a legend in the film score industry. Let his notes guide you on a journey.
July Tree — Nina Simone
The moment Nina Simone’s legendary voice comes in and she sings the words “True love’s seed in the autumn ground”, I’m transported to a landscape full of trees. Trees grown by loved ones, by the earth, by the National Forest Foundation’s tree planting campaign. When we think about how we express love, what better symbol could we have than a tree? They stand tall for everyone to see and even if one dies, its roots give way to another in due time. Thank you Nina Simone for a beautiful addition to this scatterbrained mix.
Plantasia — Mort Garson
For the last track on this playlist, I had to talk about Plantasia. Recorded by Mort Garson on his Moog synthesizer in 1976, this album was created for houseplants to grow to. Isn’t that incredible? The album cover’s tagline reads “warm earth music for plants… and the people who love them”. And that’s what I call a perfect note to end a playlist about forests on. Check out the Spotify mix below!