What the Forest Has Taught Me

This article was contributed by Robert Richardson, environmentalist and arborist who has planted over 1 million trees in the last 50 years. He currently lives, studies, and maintains forestry in the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon. 

Beginning at a very young age, the urge to explore has always been an irresistible force in my life. As a child, my mother could not predict or control my compulsion to head directly towards danger at any given moment.

Pulled by the invisible lure of the woods, I’d be off into the wilds at first chance, instinctively knowing that freedom and nature were one and the same.

I knew even then that all of man’s wisdom was worthless. Though hundreds of years and mountains of reading made us different, I already shared Montaigne’s belief that “Anyone who made an intelligent collection of the asinine stupidities of human wisdom would have a wondrous tale to tell.. We can judge what we should think of Man, of his sense and of his reason, when we find such obvious and gross errors even in these important characters who have raised human intelligence to great heights.”

I also never doubted my purpose; to get as far away from any ‘authority’ as possible. My parents noticed something different of course. Despite their efforts to civilize ad educate me, I left home and society with the sole purpose of exploring life sustained by abundance alone.

My God has always been nature. Not some invisible man floating on a throne in the ethos. Nature itself is God. My church is the woods. No timbers need to be cut for mighty beams or holy crosses. No pages pounded from dead trees for holy words to be written on. No stone carved into holy men bent prostrate to a vain god.

Blind as a zealot’s faith though, was my compulsion to escape the world of man to a safe place and rid my eyes of any sign of his presence. A place I could listen to the trees, be soothed by their gentle sway and serenaded by the whispering breeze without distraction. Where I could observe the many beings of nature each, in their own way, imperturbably busy doing the real business of preserving and protecting Life on Earth.

My life’s education has always been through observing nature. If I had to prove it, I cannot. I have no degrees or papers written, no honorable mention on the subject. My degree of knowledge is represented by my ability or lack of, to live without man’s inventions. Man’s greatest sin is thinking he can do better than nature; that he must improve everything.

If I learned anything from the forest, it is that trying to be smarter than Creation itself is the folly of mankind.

Western Thought and the Death of Real Forests

Foresters have spent hundreds of years debating environmental science, and from my observation, its all wasted time. Judging by the look of our forests, their research has been fruitless. Just look around at the effects of hundreds of years of clear cutting.

The ongoing mismanagement of our forests has arguably led to the collapse of the delicate silvicultural and water cycle models that have existed for millennia. All we do with man’s knowledge leads to the destruction of nature. Lewis and Clark famously claimed there was more timber in the PNW than man could ever use.

Well, they were wrong. In less than 200 years we’ve cut it all and we’re cutting down the ‘second’ growth now. I’m not against logging. I am against the politically driven agenda that ignores science.

Harvesting techniques allow the maximum yield inexpensively but the immediate costs to the environment are sever. Massive erosion fills streams with silt. Exposure of the forest floor to sunlight increases radiating heat raising air and ground temperature dramatically. Water temperatures in streams also skyrocket, killing off salmonoids, a critical link in the food chain from the the riparian areas through the estuarine and oceanic ecosystems. Clear cutting, slashing and burning exposes xeric soils that, once stripped of surface biomass, can no longer sustain the organisms and their genetic and biochemcial properties that support life in the forest. We are killing the forest.

You might say, but don’t they plant lots of trees? Yes, but the practice of mono-culture reforestation is just a second major blow to the forest. Single species plantations are a huge mistake and another spoke in the industrial wheel of environmental degradation.

Taking key species of flora and/or fauna out of the forest destabilizes the entire ecosystem, common knowledge among scientists. However, ignoring the role of a seral progression, or skipping the intermediate stage found in ecological succession in an ecosystem is still an acceptable forest management practice in the PNW.

Lack of the understanding of fire has further contributed to mismanagement of our forests. Allowing timber harvest without holding timber companies responsible for the flash fuels they leave behind has led to inevitable super-fires. These unnatural conflagrations destroy what life is left including the mycorrhizae in the soil, a necessary fungi for grass seed germination without which, mulch cannot develop. Microrganisms do not form, the soil remains lifeless, leading to more erosion and eventual destruction of the entire water cycle system. All of this is freshman forestry 101: common knowledge.

Yet even with centuries of observation, forestry experts have failed to produce anything good or useful that has led to any change.

Forest Restoration projects, led by Eco-Saviors like Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wilderness have been successfully providing an alternative to antiquated forestry practices. Restoration is different from reforestation in that it focuses on establishing the entire ecosystem, not board foot profits.

Restoration sounds good, and looks good on paper. Millions of dollars are being appropriated by “restoration experts.” However, the current total acres of actual restored forest are fractionally inadequate. A token effort, and not an excuse for the allowing the continuation of destructive practices elsewhere in the forest.

Just as it seems humanity is not evolving or learning how to stop war, poverty or sickness, we are not changing the way we use our land, water and air, as a resource.

There is irrefutable science that supports a permaculture revolution of global agriculture and farming. We certainly have the technology and the money to do it.

The Cause: A Lost Connection

Always remember that nature gives us a place to heal while we learn. To understand the lessons the forest has to teach us, one starts by learning how to be still long enough to observe and interact with the animals and the many things going on in the forest. Healing begins by releasing anxiety and inward energy and reversing to flow outwards, absorbing by observing. Learning begins by being open to the answers.

Be ready for the orgasmic reality that all your questions will be answered, if you haves eyes that see and ears that hear.

Asking questions and observing nature is how to learn. The wisdom of man is of no use. Not doubting ones relationship to the Earth and the birthright of health and happiness is the first step to believing in nature. We are truly free when we realize that health and happiness do not come from material possessions, but the ability to live without them. It is important to celebrate this freedom with ceremony, giving thanks for the abundance that flows freely all around us.

Only within the arms of creation, and in harmony with nature, will mankind thrive. Being thankful. Be full of gratitude. Having a desire to live in harmony is all that is required to be wealthy. No thinking, doing nothing. That’s the starting point. From their we can observe the abundance that exists all around us.

All these material desires are connected to human miseries. To desire for self gratification is unnatural. To be content, is to be perfect in harmony. Nature in its pure form is perfect. The anchor is nature itself. When we become separated from nature, then we have no anchor. The nutrition manipulation and biological manipulation from national or international Pharma/Food/BioTech companies are degrading and impairing the human cognitive function and intellect, which may or may not be to keep the human populace suppressed, confused and oppressed. Imperfect and in need.

We have lost connection with nature, and so lost our connection with other human beings. We have forgotten that All Life is Sacred, all life matters. But in nature, there is no waste. Support the web of life on the planet. Put your head in the right place and start thinking with nature. Only then can you witness the amazing transformation that is possible.

Freedom is a notion, a concept known only to the individual and their perception of it. Just as a Living Creator, whose Essence pervades the Universe as an Absolute Reality, can be known only through a personal relationship.

Just as Democracy is something that only exists in the minds of those who believe in it, as Dr. Obediah Harris President of the Philosophical Society describes Democracy, “…as an inherent promise of a fair world, an obscure vision, hidden, not visible to the normal eye but only visible to those who have that inner vision.”

Its time we open our eyes to the real meaning of freedom and get back to nature.

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