My daughter arrived from Portland having driven through the Coast Range on Highway 53. She had a question: “They have signs up in the clear cuts that say ‘replanted in 2016’–why don’t they say what they took?” It was a question I had asked myself. In fact, I had even fantasized about signs. I drove through that area when huge machines were cutting the forest (not the trees, the forest!). The forest lay on the ground fully clothed with branches, the air filled with the scent of conifer. I drove through again when there were burn piles, barren earth and yes, “two trees and two logs per acre for the wildlife.” At this time, in my outrage, my sign would have simply said: RAPE!
Later, I wanted to post a sign that said: CLEARCUT IN 2016: Among the Dead– 98 native plants, ferns, mosses, fungi, the soil itself; Those left homeless– frogs, salamanders, birds, animals …The problem was, of course, that I very quickly ran out of space on the sign. When we clear cut a natural forest, we are losing not only the trees, we are losing a myriad of native plants, many medicinal; fungi and microorganisms in the soil that nurture forest growth; ferns that hold the soil in place; mosses that act as a sponge, soaking up the rain into the forest floor; the understory of red and blue huckleberry, salal, wild azalea, elderberry, cascara, and vine maple; Alder, putting nitrogen into the earth through the nodules on its roots and giving its body to the earth after 60 or 70 years so that conifer can grow towards the sun; Cedar, rich in medicine, and beautiful of wood; Hemlock, growing everywhere and rapidly — off logs and stumps and from the forest floor; and majestic Spruce, offering stout limbs for nesting of birds and squirrels. And I still have not named the birds, animals, amphibians, butterflies, insects that are at home in the forest. But, of course, it is futile to try to name everything in a forest. And if you could, you still would not have captured it — for the forest, itself, is alive. But to name nothing at all, to ignore that it is a living system, one that cannot be “replanted,” makes it easy to destroy because, you see, it does not even exist.
Somehow, as a culture, we have gotten ourselves into this fix where we believe nature is inanimate, separate from us, and there only for our use. Derrick Jensen calls it “The Myth of Human Supremacy” in his recent book of that title. Believing this, we do not need to name or know what we destroy, we can simply take. The Welsh people had a word for the feeling of love and belonging to the land — hiraeth. Families and clans that lived generation after generation in the same place experienced a deep knowing of the land that did not translate simply as “ownership.” There is no parallel to that word in English. But perhaps getting ourselves into this place of separation, we are beginning to understand what the native people of this land lived.
Robert Lawler (VOICES OF THE FIRST DAY, 1991) points out that “in witnessing the dying of the natural world around us and in ourselves, we have at last been able to see that the earth is living.” In our time, Lawlor says, the word indigenous, which means “born from” or “being an integral part of a place,” has come to symbolize the rediscovery that our race is inseparable from earth and nature as a whole.” It has been 27 years since Lawler’s insight and I am still waiting for this understanding to filter down to the management of forests on the North Oregon Coast.
Thirty years ago, I came across a little book called THINKING LIKE A MOUNTAIN (John Seed, Joanna Macy and others). The mission of the book was to help people rediscover their relationship with the myriad creatures of Earth through exercises in empathy, meditations, and ritual—and particularly through creating a group ritual called “A Council of All Beings” where participants became the voice of a plant or animal– and humans listened.
Perhaps this lay in the back of my mind this morning as I sat here pondering the clear cut hills and writing one more letter to the editor—trying—again– to explain the real “value” of a forest. For what slipped out instead probably does not fit on the editorial page, but left me with the fantasy of hearing many voices speaking for those who do not have voices to say–the forest, the rivers and streams, the ocean, the fishes and animals…..Here is what the forest had to say through me. Perhaps, as “comment” you could…for what you love…give it voice.
IF THE FOREST COULD SAY…
In this time when there is much discussion of how to get the greatest “value” from the forest; in this time when even the word “forest” is being forgotten as it is divided into units and by percentages–its value judged by “timber production”—
If the forest had a voice to say what it means to be alive, trees moving in the wind, the song of wind breathing the fragrance of cedar, hemlock, spruce…If the forest could say what it means to be alive with creatures, the scurrying of animals and the calling of birds through branches and leaves…If the forest could say how the rain and mist filter through, saturating , until the forest itself is raining into mosses and creeks…if the forest could say how sun rays touch the plants and forest floor, transforming green into a world of rainbows, every breath fresh and clean…
If you could pause a moment to breathe her in; if you could pause for a moment to hear her sing—perhaps you would understand what true value is. Something we do not want to lose; something we are responsible for; something our children’s children’s children should be able to know.
* This post is also featured at wanderlandrainforest.org.