1/26/2011

Forest Primeval: The natural history of an ancient forest

What is the next best thing to hanging out in the trees? Reading about trees, of course. In between excursions to the forest I like to absorb as much information about trees as I can. And there is a lot of great information out there.

I just finished reading Chris Maser's fantastic book Forest Primeval: The Natural History of an Ancient Forest. In it he describes a small patch of forest in the Pacific Northwest as it grows from its birth (after a lightning strike fire) in 988 to the beautiful old growth forest that he has known and loved since childhood.

Over the thousand years of this small grove, Maser describes many of the creatures and processes that work together to create one of the most diverse and majestic ecosystems in the world.

The author knows the forest in intricate detail, and we are introduced to a long list of characters, each one of them performing a small, but necessary task in the web of life.

Threatened Avatar Grove big trees
From fungus in the soil that grows on the roots of Douglas-fir, to voles, cougar, wildflowers and massive 900 year old trees, the author makes the small grove he is describing leap off the page with a green fecundity. But catastrophic changes are coming to the ancient grove.

Along with describing the characters and changes in the forest, the book also describes the characters and changes in the human world. In the 17th century, as the small grove grows into old age, one thing is certain - invaders are coming, and they view the earth and its resources quite differently than the native people that lived with the forest for about as long as it existed.

Of his own people, Chief Seattle said, "Every part of all this soil is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hollowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished." He warned that what we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.

The prescient Chief had the newcomers pegged, and was saddened by what he saw. "We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of the land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is not his brother, but his enemy - and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his fathers' graves, and his children's birthright is forgotten."

Forest Primeval is written equally as much from the viewpoints of a poet, an artist, a philosopher, and a scientist. Maser knows the ancient forest and its denizens well, and he has a deep respect and love for each and every one of them.

He invites us to consider, and says, "As we journey through the forest of a thousand years, keep in mind that as the forest is growing and changing, so is humanity, and they will ultimately converge at a time and in a way that will forever change them both."

Maser concludes by asking whether we can overcome our inherited myth of human superiority over Nature in time to halt the destruction, and begin the healing.

We haven't been able to so far, and time is running out. The primeval forest is almost gone.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like a good read. I'll have to check out a copy of it. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    ReplyDelete

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