In my “Where I’m From” post I mentioned one log loads. That isn’t entirely accurate. There was a time when one tree would make up several truckloads depending on how tall the tree was. My scanner isn’t talking to my computer and I’m not sure how well these pictures would copy anyway. But we’re talking trees so big that the cutting crew could stand on the stump. We’re talking at least three guys plus the cross cut saw and the rest of the equipment. Or three or four kids could sit side by side and have room left over. (Nobody recorded their mom’s comments when she tried to get the pitch out of their clothes. J)
Those days are long gone. The loads I see going down the road are usually just above the size my dad called “pecker poles” and the replanted forests don’t look anything like the old pictures of huge trees with space between them and low lying brushy undergrowth. My dad told stories of spotting trees with scorched bark. Back in the day when he was new to logging. The older guys told him the local Native Americans deliberately burned out the brush with little fires to improve the browse for the deer and elk. Or folks running sheep would burn the brush out so the grass would come up. Thing is they were always doing it and the underbrush didn’t get a chance to build up.
So, most of the forestland out here was never totally untouched. Between the locals and the lightning there was a fire somewhere most of the time. But there weren’t very many people and then we bought into the myth that forests could be managed. We didn’t learn from what the lumber companies did in states like Wisconsin and Michigan. Heck, most of them were the same companies. They strip mined those forests and then they came west. Western man continued to believe that he knew better than the natural world how to manage forest ecosystems that had been doing very nicely on there own for thousands of years. That a log that died of old age or fell to wind or lightning instead of being harvested was “wasted” somehow.
I wish I had pictures of some of the little clearings I’ve seen where a great grandfather cedar fell twenty or thirty years ago. There are seedling trees, vine maple, and little berry bushes that look like blackberries but aren’t-salmon berries I think. The old tree itself is covered with moss. Some of the berry bushes are starting to grow from the tree itself. And if you are lucky enough to be there on the sunny days after a rain, there’ll be a half dozen kinds of mushrooms and toadstools growing from the cracks in the bark. And of course a couple of dozen different kinds of creepy-crawlies to keep you company if you decide to get the seat of your pant damp by sitting on the tree.
And no, I’m not against cutting trees but the best work being done in Oregon right now is being done by the small tree farmers, not the big corporations. When these folks look at their land they are looking fifty years ahead. Which trees can I thin now, which ones will be left for another twenty or thirty years? Where can I leave some brush piles for cover for birds and small animals? How many seed trees to I need per acre? How can I harvest with a minimum of impact on the land itself?
And when I look at what’s left after killer tornadoes rip through a town, I start thinking that maybe wood frame buildings may be cheaper but they may not be the best way to go in some parts of this country. Heck, if I lived out there I’d be trying to build a hobbit hole myself.
And the big guys like Weyerhaeuser, Crown Z and Pope & Talbot? Their old growth was harvested and exported overseas. As raw timber. They sold out their mill operations and when the supply of federal timber began to dry up the mill towns were left to wither, the little companies went bust, and the mills were left to rust. Expendable forests, expendable equipment, expendable communities, and expendable people.
I think I’d be hard put toconvince Rae Beth’s cunning man that this is “progress.” And I think it would be very hard to sit through what he’d have to say to us.