Sunday, June 12, 2011

Thoughts on Trees, Clear-cut, Devastation

[All quotes & the first two images are from Along Some Rivers: Photographs and Conversation by Robert Adams]

“Trees smell good, feel good, sound good, and look good. And as if that weren’t enough, they point beyond themselves.”

“What we’re after is what the writer Frank Waters said he found at his home in the Sangre de Cristo mountains north of Taos. ‘There,’ he wrote, ‘I have a speaking acquaintance with the trees.’”

“Human beings and trees share some qualities. One quality that we do not share with trees, however, is our periodic inclination to gratuitous killing. Witness what we do to trees.”

“When I’m photographing in clear-cuts, I know what has brought me there is a sense of the world coming apart. But after I’ve been there long enough to get over my shock at the violence, after I’ve been working an hour or two and am absorbed in the structure of things as they appear in the finder, I’m not thinking only about the disaster. I’m discovering things in sunlight. You can stand in the most hopeless place and if it’s in daylight you can experience moments that are right, that are whole."

"That’s not to say that working in clear-cuts has been easy. So much effort has had to go to trying not to do certain things. Not to use the sky, on those rare occasion where there is one here in the Northwest, to rescue the land. Not to be seduced into celebrating the power of man and machines, which can have a Satanic beauty and the heroism about it. And not to aestheticize the carnage.”


One of my favorite trees died in the winter storm of 2007. It was a Sitka Spruce, 700 years old, 206 feet tall, and it snapped 75' from the ground during a horrible windstrom. The "new" largest Sitka Spruce is 144' tall and is located in Cape Meares. On my second to last visit home (eight months after the giant windstorm), my brother and I walked to the Cathedral tree and were amazed at how many trees were knocked down in what was once dense forest. It managed to survive but took a beating in the process.

When returning home, I often think of the similarities and the differences between "harvesting" and natural destruction. They are both tragic yet a windstorm is infinitely more acceptable. Last month, the standard 10-20 feet of trees that usually remain alongside of Highway 30 to disguise the clear-cut were gone. I saw towns I was never able to see because the facade was missing. Longview, Washington, home of paper mills & logging yards where trees, in their stripped from the land form, are piled onto ships heading to the Far East, looked like it had reached capacity & had spread along the shores of the Columbia River in areas more vast than I remembered. It's startling how many aspects of home are about loss. This is the only thing I do not miss about moving from the NW.

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