"Go as far as you can see; when you get there you'll be able to see farther." ~ Thomas Carlyle
Art is my passion, Nature my muse and I have betrayed her. I have found pleasure in her destruction.
I am fortunate to live in an isolated town where nature is all around me; bush spreads out for an 80 kilometre radius. Close to home at the elevation of over 1200 metres or 4000 feet, boreal forest blankets the ridges with its towering lodgepole pine, bluish white and black spruce and soft green balsam fir.
Wild life abounds in my vicinity. It is common to see mule & whitetail deer, moose and coyotes. It is more rare, but still possible, to see grizzly & black bear, and wolves.
There is no human habitation within this sphere of nature; there cannot be because the resource industry has the rights to all of it. And there, in a nutshell, is the irony and frustration of my relationship with my muse. The forests are being clear-cut at an astonishing rate. Ever year new vistas open up and from atop the hills I can see the ridges in the distance where before all I would see was the forest around me. Now new open fields are decorated with the silent remains of solitary, tall and stubborn poplar that once staunchly defended their ground among thick conifers: sentinels stripped of their branches as the stately pines fell around them. Debris litters the side of a hill devoid of any wildlife, indeed any sound at all.
And yet there is beauty. No sooner have the noisy machines left the scene of destruction than the fireweed seed and the enduring roots of horsetails, having lain dormant for generations, feel the heat of the sun and burst through the debris. Their lush growth hides what it can of the ravaged hillside and tries to hold the ground together while the grasses and other forbs that deer will browse, begin to establish themselves.
Within a year or two, if left undisturbed, blueberries and huckleberries will thrive and the bears will return to feed. Alder and willow will sprout in the draws, where the water collects. Aspen will begin to grow on the hillside with songbirds cheering them on all summer as the tiny and slow-growing conifers struggle to a dominance that will eventually shade out most of the undergrowth. Mosses will thrive on their remains, until a lightning strike sends a fast fire through, killing the oldest conifers so that their bodies can feed and the sunlight can again kiss the forest floor, beginning anew the cycle.
This is the succession, the circle of life in the forest. There are generations of plants that must grow in their turn in the natural forest with the efficiency that has been developed since before humans existed, creating habitat for a succession of wildlife as each matures.
We, however, have cracked that circle. With the supression of natural fire, we have allowed the conifers to grow too long until Mother Nature steps in to thwart our attempts with insects – bark beetles – that will do the job of which lightning was once the master. With the lumber industry’s method of stripping the forest floor of debris and killing the forbs with herbicides we are depleting the fragile but nourishing forest soil. Then, with the monoculture that they claim is ‘replanting the forest’, the biodiversity is lost and we are left with single-species stands of lonely, silent nurseries.
When the forest as we know it disappears, berries will be gone along with the bears; the ancient rotting pines will no longer shelter woodpeckers and owls. There will be no luxuriant mosses to hold on to the precious rain as it falls or to cushion the footsteps of the deer as they meander under the sheltering canopy.
I know, because I’ve been there. I’ve walked through these plantations and the feeling is far from any sense of thriving nature. It is eerily silent. Desolate. Perhaps it is progress. Perhaps it is necessary. We must feed the beast of humanity. But I’m glad that I won’t live to see my great-grandchildren grow up without the ability to feed their souls in a forest.
Photographs, documentaries and paintings will survive the end of the forest, but as beautiful as they can be, they will never be able to replace the sounds and the smells, the feeling of sinking into deep moss or discovering a wild orchid.