HB V

is older than it's ever been and now it's even older

10/01/2001

A brief recognition of time



It is my firm contention that the difference between an adult and a child is an appreciation for time. In the last few years I have grown an appreciation for the stretching effect of time, and how the brief years of human lives can overlap with others to create a continuous thread of history that reaches back to the limit of our collective understanding. I celebrate history and remember it partially as a tool for understanding the present, but mostly because of the curiosity that I have in the ways the world has changed and in some ways, to gain comfort from the ways the world hasn’t.

This last weekend Maggie and I went camping at Scenic State Park in north central Minnesota. It was our last camping trip of the year; a year when we went camping more times than the previous three put together. We’ve been to sites in Western Minnesota, Northeastern Minnesota, Northwest Ontario, and also in Oklahoma. This weekend was something special, however. In Oregon, Douglas firs can tower over you in a way that dwarf humans and make you feel very insignificant. I never really thought that Minnesota trees were like that, but I was wrong. Scenic State Park happens to be one of the very few places in Minnesota, and for that matter in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, that contains old growth, uncut red and white pine forest. The trees at Scenic are immense; one doesn’t get the full impact of the size of these behemoths until you are staring at trunks that can be twelve feet in circumference; pines that easily top one hundred feet, and birches that are so old that they’ve dropped their classic white bark.

The trees give me hope.

The illusion that nature doesn’t change is a comforting one. No matter how bad we mess up our human societies, the natural ones that still exist are reminders that nature continues to follow its own laws, and at some level we live at will on this biosphere. Perhaps that’s why seeing trees like the ones I saw this weekend don’t just make me happy to know that such old forests exist; they also make me profoundly angry that the previous generations here had so little regard for their children and grandchildren that they didn’t leave more. The old forests of the Eastern United States are destroyed; logged in a paroxysm of destruction that obliterated 99% of the old stands. For instance, of the over 3 million acres that was the Red Pine forests in the United States, some 8,000 acres of old growth are all that is left. Of that 8,000 acres, some 5,000 lie in Minnesota, and the vast majority are in the remote wilderness of the Boundary Waters. Most of the rest is like Scenic, a lakeshore of forgotten timber, or the Lost Forty, a stand of old growth left behind because of a mapping error. Why was this necessary? In the rush to log, why take every single last tree?

More senseless is the fact that humans are still anxious to cut more of these treasures. At this point, you can virtually count the remaining old growth trees, yet judges and politicians seem more than willing to grant the right for another few days of work for loggers to destroy more of our heritage. Why do we let this happen?

Consistent readers of this site know that I value logic and rational thought above all. Appeals to ideology do not impress me. I am skeptical of the far left and the far right alike. Yet—there is a moral rightness to the protestors who are willing to risk arrest to protect trees. Spending time in relatively unspoiled nature gives you an appreciation for what we have lost, and the time that it takes to recover. Given foresight and time, we can give our grandchildren what our grandfathers took from us – a chance to see forests on their own terms. The vast northwoods in Minnesota were cut down in a seventy year orgy of destruction and cavalier attitude of disregard for nature and greed. However, red and white pine is considered to be old growth again at one hundred and twenty years of age. True, we will not see five hundred year old pines magically restored from the forests; but imagine a child in 2050 looking at the forests at Bear Head Lake, that were logged at the start of the 20th century or destroyed in the forest fire of 1913. They will likely not notice the charred stumps that I could see there; they will only see nearly 150 year old pines that will be nearly indistinguishable from the old growth that I saw last weekend.


I’m studying… don’t bug me

(Don’t click this if you’re feeling morbid.)


Neat! NASA spacecraft survives comet! I’m also waiting with bated breath the pictures of Saturn from Cassini; now that it hasn’t killed us the science ought to be great.

Super-blog Follow Me Here, a weblog that I have been reading for a year and a half, notices that I’ve had a sidebar link there since Hobbsblog began. Shockingly, the “That is stupendous in its evil” title that I added as a joke last time I updated has now been immortalized in the list of linkbacks there. That’s funny. I think I will change it to reflect some line from each new entry I do.

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