Woods are not like other spaces. To begin with, they are cubic. Their trees surround you, loom over you, press in from all sides. Woods choke off views and leave you muddled and without bearings. They make you feel small and confused and vulnerable, like a small child lost in a crowd of strange legs. Stand in a desert or prairie and you know you are in a big space. Stand in a woods and you only sense it. They are a vast, featureless nowhere. And they are alive.

So woods are spooky. Quite apart from the thought that they may harbor wild beasts and armed, genetically challenged fellows named Zeke and Festus, there is something innately sinister about them, some ineffable thing that makes you sense an atmosphere of pregnant doom with every step and leaves you profoundly aware that you are out of your element and ought to keep your ears pricked. Though you tell yourself it’s preposterous, you can’t quite shake the feeling that you are being watched. You order yourself to be serene (it’s just a woods for goodness sake), but really you are jumpier than Don Knotts with pistol drawn. Every sudden noise—the crack of a falling limb, the crash of a bolting deer—makes you spin in alarm and stifle a plea for mercy. Whatever mechanism within you is responsible for adrenaline, it has never been so sleek and polished, so keenly poised to pump out a warming squirt of adrenal fluid.

Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods. I note that Bryson, like me, grew up on the Plains, and we feel much the same on this subject.