Thursday, December 10, 1998
Chelsea Green Publishing Company. Paperback
By Joan Dunning
AuthorJoan Dunning writes of a California far removed from Hollywood or Malibu, bringing a human face to the controversy over logging in the Headwaters Forest.
This book is not about happiness. It is about yielding to conscience. It is about a forest, and it is also about us, about America...
From Chapter 1
I never intended to get involved with the controversy surrounding the Headwaters Forest, let alone write a book about it. I have always considered myself a naturalist, not an activist. For several years I have been working on a book about the birds of Baja. Yet this spring, instead of returning to Mexico to kayak around the islands in the Sea of Cortez observing bird life, drifting among the dolphins, spending nights camped on beaches sparkling with bioluminescence at the waterline and stars in the sky, I have been tramping through clearcuts up to my ankles in mud. I have been flying over those same clearcuts in a small plane, circling again and again over landslides, slipping and sliding in silted creeks, walking along riverbeds choked with gravel, reading about the devastating effects of industrial forestry, and interviewing those involved with the destruction and salvation of Headwaters. Why have I done this? Sometimes I wonder what is wrong with me. Instead of helping me load up the car to head south through the deserts of Baja, my children have looked at my back as I have typed at my computer or joined me in the field for a crash course in forestry. They're not happy and neither am I. But this book is not about happiness. It is about yielding to conscience. It is about a forest, and it is also about us, about America...
From Chapter 29
Perhaps men cannot help clear-cutting. The technology is too new to have been tempered by natural selection. And the drives that propel men--to provide for family, to be the biggest, to conquer the most--are perhaps too old to be easily corralled. Technology has put powerful tools in men's hands. A Fish and Wildlife biologist overheard loggers, unaccustomed to being asked by their superiors to clear-cut, stand back and survey a wasteland of their own creation.
"Wow, can you believe we did that?"
I wrote the preceding paragraph in a tolerant mood, imagining a young man for whom simply having a job and being responsible to his wife and children represents an enormous step in personal growth which is not to be minimized.
Anyone can stop wholesale slaughter whether it's bunnies or harp seal pups or our last surviving ancient forests. When it's human blood that's spilled, we put the perpetrators away. We see a man beat his dog and he goes to jail. It isn't because we're against letting dogs go extinct, it's because we can't bear to witness it. We just don't apply the same standards to the wild and mysterious as we do to the domestic and known--unless we are sickened by witnessing the violence.
Clear-cutting is an act of violence that affects trees, rivers, air, water, earth, and every person, owl, toad, or human who lives there. It is violence excused by economic imperative. I can't say, " I need the cash so I harvested the people at the 7-11 and took the cash." Why should [Texas financier and owner of Headwaters assets Charles] Hurwitz?
I think she's right and I'm wrong, but I have still known a lot of fine young men caught in the middle...
From Chapter 36
I looked into Charles Hurwitz's eyes as I extended my hand. He is not a myth. He is a man. Quite simply, it takes only a man, cordial, practiced at warmth. He is not a humanist. I was shaking hands with a major force in the economic globalization of the planet. He is a well-oiled taker.
We shook hands and he said, "But you're so pretty...What are you doing with someone like Ken?"
This was the equivalent of banter between males. I was not moved to ask him, "Have you hiked alone in Headwaters? Spent the night there? Have you seen a spotted owl? Have you sat and called an owl in through the forest to perch above you and stare down at you? Have you ever drawn a fern?" I did wonder if after the months that I had spent writing about and visiting this man's forest, there might be some ghost of a forest in my eyes. But I really had no expectation that he would recognize it as his own.
Instead, Hurwitz told us a couple of stories that I imagine he saves for Humboldt County residents. He said that he went into a ma-and-pa store in a small town south of Scotia, and he asked the clerk, "What do you think of Pacific Lumber?"
"Oh, they used to be a good company," the clerk said.
"Used to be?" Hurwitz prodded.
"Yeah, until MAXXAM bought 'em out and brought in those spotted owls."
The other story was in a similar vein. I forget it though.
As I think back, meeting Hurwitz was like a point of stasis where virtually nothing happened. This is the intention. Each year he simply puts in an appearance before his shareholders and surveys his opponents. His shareholders watched silently, as did I. His more committed opponents poured their hearts out when they were given permission to speak. I never doubted that traveling to Houston was worthwhile. It was worth it just to lay eyes on Charles Hurwitz. And it was worth it to see his opposition in peak form. But I have no illusion that when the board of directors went into closed session after the public meeting, that they did anything more than spend 15 minutes writing down names and smirking condescendingly before getting on with business...
From Chapter 47
Old growth redwood is usually sold with the wood grade designation called "Clear Heart." In a ban similar to that imposed on the purchase of ivory or rhinoceros horns, many retail lumber firms have agreed not to sell this product. If you do see it for sale, contact the management of that supplier and tell them that you buy lumber where certified sustainably harvested redwood is sold. Not only will this help control the market for old-growth redwood, but will help support timber companies that are using sound forestry practices. In combination with limited use of sustainably harvested wood. It is widely available, and, like redwood, it won't rot and doesn't need sealing...
From Chapter 74
Return to Owl Creek
We drew close, protected from view by tan oak and brush. We could smell the chain saw oil, the sawdust, and we could hear voices, though it was hard to discern words. We sat down in a safe place to survey the scene. Was the top of one of the trees directly in front of us shaking slightly? I thought so. Sometimes when I am out painting, I suddenly realize that a gopher, unaware of my presence, is working the roots of a nearby plant. I stop painting, fascinated by the subterranean demolition. Now, here, with some of the same unconsciousness but on a far larger scale, a whole tree was being worked on. I plotted the tree's possible trajectory, making sure we were safe, and then just sat, party to the killing.
"It doesn't seem right to just sit here," Doug said.
"Yeah," I said. I looked at the already disturbed landscape around us, a mess of tan oak and ceanothus competing to take advantage of the relatively recent flood of light. I looked at the upper trunk of the tree that I suspected was the quarry of the loggers out of sight below. It wasn't the massive tree that I had imagined would someday break my heart. It was actually rather small, a sort of anticlimax, I thought privately.
"That tree has stood here through storm after storm and now, in just a short time, it will fall," Doug said solemnly.
The whole landscape was such a far cry from an ancient forest that I began to wonder if it mattered.
"It's stood there," Doug went on, unaware of my ambivalence, "for 400 years, 500 years. . ."
"Just a baby," I thought.
"Since before the Pilgrims..." Doug went on.
"The Pilgrims?" I thought, and a light began to go on.
"Maybe since before the arrival of Columbus..."
"Columbus?" Sometimes I am slow. In this ancient landscape, it has taken me so long to grasp proportions. If a tree wasn't a seedling at the time of Christ, I think it is young.
"It they'd leave these trees alone, instead of cutting them all down and dousing the land with herbicide, in a few year's they'd have something here again. These trees would be..."
The saws suddenly stopped, and along with the unseen loggers downslope, Doug and I paused in silence while the tree did what every other tree does that has had year after year of connective tissue severed. Its top began a smooth arc toward the ground. As soon as it landed with a final crash, the saws began on another tree. It was so fast! Because the trees had grown in the shade of the ancient forest, even though they were probably quite old, they were only a few feet in diameter. In fifty years their branches would have closed the canopy of the forest once more and the second growth beneath them could have been selectively harvested. In this way, with just a little restraint and planning, the forest could exist " into perpetuity."
As it was, in just days all the trees around me would be gone.
Excerpted from From the Redwood Forest: Ancient Trees and the Bottom Line: A Headwaters Journey, copyright c1998 by Joan Dunning. Photographs courtesy of Doug Thron. With permission fro Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River Junction, Vermont. wwwchelseagreen.com. (To order a copy, 1-800-639-4099.)