In Defense of the Primeval Forest

“The edge of the cancer
Swells against the hill-we feel
a foul breeze-And it sinks back down.
The deer winter here
A chainsaw growls in the gorge.

Ten wet days and the log trucks stop,
The trees breathe.
Sunday the 4-wheel jeep of the
Realty Company brings in
Landseekers, lookers, they say
To the land,
Spread your legs.

The jets crack sound overhead, it’s OK
here;
Every pulse of the rot at the heart
In the sick fat veins of Amerika
Pushes the edge up closer–

A bulldozer grinding and slobbering
Sideslipping and belching on top of
The skinned-up bodies of still-live bushes
In the pay of a man
From town.

Behind is a forest that goes to the Arctic
And a desert that still belongs to the
Piute
And here we must draw
Our line.

As the crickets’ soft autumn hum
is to us
so are we to the trees
as are they
to the rocks and the hills.”

Gary Snyder, “Front Lines”

The ancient Bialowieza forest, home to 800 bison and one of Europe’s last primeval woodland, is under serious threat. The Polish government has ordered massive logging operations, justifying them with half-baked excuses about an alleged bark beetle threat. Although the European court of justice has issued a ban on the logging operations, the nationalistic, anti-EU Polish officials are determined to ignore it. The motives of the government are not merely financial. The war waged in Poland is first and foremost cultural. This has been lucidly explained by a Polish blogger here  He claims convincingly that the Bialowieza conflict is part and parcel of an ideological war. The right-wing, Catholic government views nature as separated from humans, who are in the right to do with it what they will. In their eyes, nature is not wise or self-regulating. It needs human control and intervention. The current Minister of Environment declared the following recently:

“We cannot allow for humankind to be perceived as the greatest threat to natural resources; we do not accept that the ban on logging trees or killing animals, promoted by Satanists on the one hand and kind-hearted people with little knowledge about the natural world on the other, is the only way to protect the environment.”

Unregulated, wild nature is Satan’s domain. It needs to be subdued and exorcised so that it can serve humans. How far we are here from shamanism and the wisdom of indigenous cultures. As David Abram puts it in his wonderful book The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World:

“The traditional or tribal shaman, I came to discern, acts as an intermediary between the human community and the larger ecological field, ensuring that there is an appropriate flow of nourishment, not just from the landscape to the human inhabitants, but from the human community back to the local earth.

Magic, then, in its perhaps most primordial sense, is the experience of existing in a world made up of multiple intelligences, the intuition that every form one perceives—from the swallow swooping overhead to the fly on a blade of grass, and indeed the blade of grass itself—is an experiencing form, an entity with its own predilections and sensations, albeit sensations that are very different from our own.”

Balowieza is a place of primeval magical intelligence. It does not need humans to flourish. As Alan Weisman wrote in The World Without Us, it is:

“Europe’s last remaining fragment of old-growth, lowland wilderness. Think of the misty, brooding forest that loomed behind your eyelids when, as a child, someone read you the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales. Here, ash and linden trees tower nearly 150 feet, their huge canopies shading a moist, tangled understory of hornbeams, ferns, swamp alders and crockery-sized fungi. … The air, thick and cool, is draped with silence that parts briefly for a nutcracker’s croak, a pygmy owl’s low whistle, or a wolf’s wail, then returns to stillness.

The fragrance that wafts from eons of accumulated mulch in the forest’s core hearkens to fertility’s very origins.”

And here comes the key passage:

“In the Bialowieza, the profusion of life owes much to all that is dead. Almost a quarter of the organic mass aboveground is in assorted stages of decay – more than 50 cubic yards of decomposing trunks and fallen branches on every acre, nourishing thousands of species of mushrooms, lichens, bark beetles, grubs, and microbes that are missing from the orderly, managed woodlands that pass as forests elsewhere.”

Culling and selling mature trees prevents them from becoming “a windfall of nutrients to the forest.” If we want nature to continue nourishing and sustaining us in the same way, the best course of action is to let her do her magic unencumbered.

Caspar David Friedrich, “The Chasseur in the Forest”

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7 Responses to In Defense of the Primeval Forest

  1. jesusolmo says:

    “There Will Come Soft Rains”
    by Ray Bradbury

    There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
    And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
    And frogs in the pools singing at night,
    And wild plum trees in tremulous white;
    Robins will wear their feathery fire,
    Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
    And not one will know of the war, not one
    Will care at last when it is done.
    Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
    If mankind perished utterly;
    And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
    Would scarcely know that we were gone.

  2. herongrace says:

    Hello Monika! I have heard of the plans for this wilful destruction and it breaks my heart. I do not like so called progress at the cost of Nature and all the trees and creatures which are voiceless.
    Last week I had my handyman wandering around chainsawing down crook trees and some dead ones to manage the place and prepare for the bushfire season.
    Whilst he would point to certain trees or dead branches growing out at angles, I might say “no,that is wildlife habitat.. that is real estate for possums, nesting places for birds,,perches over the dam where fishing birds patiently observe any fish or frogs..lizards climb up outstretched limbs to sun themselves in the Winter mornings, and snakes. goannas live in hollow logs and so on.I said to him that wildlife is the first priority. It is possible to live in harmony and respect the wildlife and to help them.
    This person is a sensitive man, but in explaining my relationship as custodian of the property, I can’t help but think that as a woman, I have a very different attitude to Nature than the average man.
    I have fabulous mature hardwood trees here that are worth a lot of money, But the idea of selling them is akin to murder to me, and would have a devastating impact on the creatures.
    So yes I think you are right and I will pray that the destruction of that wonderful forest does not occur.

  3. Margaret Ransome says:

    Please do not blame this on the Catholic Church, but on the right wing elements in Poland seeking to use the church for their personal and poltical gain. Pope Francis has become a world leader in the quest to protect “our common home” and in his call for an “integral ecology” that cares for all the vulnerable of God’s creation. As he writes in his introduction to his encyclical, Laudato Si:

    “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

    “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. . . .

    “I do not want to write this Encyclical without turning to that attractive and compelling figure, whose name I took as my guide and inspiration when I was elected Bishop of Rome. I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.”

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