The Living Spirit of Old-Growth Forests: Paying Respect to the Tall Straight People


Lisa Alpine

Never before had he been so suddenly and so keenly aware of the feel and texture of a tree's skin and of the life within it. He felt a delight in wood and the touch of it, neither as forester nor as carpenter; it was the delight of the living tree itself.

--Frodo the hobbit as he enters Lothlorien forest in The Lord of the Rings.

The realization of old-growth forests as civilizations that we are destroying at a horrifying rate is haunting me. I once thought of forests as just a few trees, not as a complete ecosystem whole unto itself. We are used to thinking in packages and units, not vastness. Especially since we have little or no exposure to the vastness of Nature---we have hemmed her in and preserved her in parks like museum exhibits. That is not wilderness. I understand now what naturalist Larry Eifert means when he says we must find the wilderness inside ourselves because it is gone from our planet. Taking a walk on a well-maintained trail through a redwood grove is not the way it was 150 years ago. It is like viewing an ant colony in a plastic home and thinking that is nature. We have sacrificed greatness and expansiveness for clutter and "safety".

Since the white man's Gold Rush-frenzied invasion of Californian in the 1800s, only 4% of the original old-growth redwood forests are left. The Headwaters Forest in Humboldt County, is the largest unprotected old-growth redwood forest remaining in the world and yes--it is imperiled. The other west-facing old-growth forests, the mossy Douglas fir and Sitka spruce old-growth, have about 8% remaining. How can we now let multi-national companies and Texans-in-debt (Hurwitz) cut down the last of our ancient forests? My belief is that trees are alive--a species who can't speak up in their defense against our terror of nature or our greed.

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