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for people who care about the West

Healing the landscape, healing ourselves

 

I felt compelled to share these thoughts with you after  I read “Down the Dark Mountain” by Brian Calvert (HCN, 7/24/17). I spent seven years working for the U.S. Forest Service cleaning up logging slash in clear-cuts. Although I actively provided input to timber-sale projects, the decision was always to log. My personal answer to my feelings of despair was to decide that people needed to see this damage. I led groups of friends through clear-cuts and camped with them in the late ’90s on the Sierra National Forest in central California. I thought that people seek out places of beauty, but they really need to go to places of environmental damage to confront unabashedly the landscape after it has been damaged. We would walk around the clear-cut and give thanks for the trees and what they had given us, ask for forgiveness and welcome and encourage the new trees and other returning vegetation. I am not a very touchy-feely person, but I felt called to do this after hearing a logger congratulate himself for not cutting down a tree with a raven’s nest in it — not, that is, until after the young birds had fledged.

I also have observed a wonderful one-woman 30-minute performance piece called Ode to the Polar Bear. Allison Warden, an Inupiaq, is intimately aware of climate change but avoids the usual artistic handwringing and political haranguing. Her performance is based on traditional Inupiaq stories of the polar bear, which she takes a step further — not just recounting anecdotes of an honored old friend, but, more importantly, bidding it goodbye as it transitions. This last aspect is something we all need to start doing: saying goodbye to the creatures that will be moving on as a result of climate change, and welcoming the new ones that will come.  

Although beauty can be a powerful incentive for protection, I believe a more comprehensive and psychologically mature tactic for we Euro-American types would be that after we have fought to change outcomes, to witness the effects with a detached and compassionate mindset, cultivating gratitude and respect for what is left and a renewed commitment to fight for what has not been damaged. The emphasis should be on turning toward the landscape to help it heal, and we will heal in the process.

Mary Kwart
Ashland, Oregon