Friday, 30 October 2009


In the preface to Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez talks about bowing to nature. I love this image and I love that I'm not the only one who finds her/himself doing this.

I don't know that I've always been a bower, but I remember noticing that I was doing it in Australia. Wandering around the southwest portion of it, in and out of forests, between trees that were over 100 feet tall and that had stood in that very spot for centuries. I felt great respect, great honor to be standing in the presence of these ancient and unique beings. I stepped lightly around them and moved slowly. I spent time studying their bark, their roots, their height, their leaves, wondering how things have changed, wondering about the trees' experiences, standing in one spot for centuries. I think if they could share their experiences, it wouldn't be with words. It'd be through the senses and it'd require a tuning and a quieting of the mind.

In addition to bowing, I realized I was often standing with my hands clasped in front of me. It reminded me of the posture I would assume when I was young and in line to receive the Eucharist at mass. That physical memory made me smirk to myself and think, "you're doing it again," but really this prayer stance seemed fitting.

The forests in the southwest of Australia are old. They say a jarrah tree can live up to 1,000 years, a tingle to 500. Aborigines have been in the area for 40,000 years. Europeans for almost 100 years.

Logging is a big business there. I visited Pemberton and stayed at a hostel right across the road from the timber mill. I saw trucks come through piled with long, thick logs. I tried to identify the moment when a tree becomes a log. I think I decided it was as early as when a person first set eyes on it with the intention of cutting it down.

Seeing felled trees made me sad, and it made me appreciate the presence of forest management because it suggested that there was an interest in leaving enough forest to manage.

As I watched the logging trucks drive up tree lined roads to unload, I projected my feelings onto the standing trees. It was like a funeral march, these roadside giants looking down on their fallen. I bowed my head as the logs passed. I wanted to stand in mourning with the survivors. Every day, I thought, they are losing members of their community. They are being exterminated and these murderous men make a parade of it and all the trees can do is watch as their brethren, already beyond saving, are shipped off to be mutilated. I wanted to cry for the trees.

In my time there I walked through ancient and rare forests. I walked near trees that don't exist anywhere else in the world. I stared up into the canopies. I looked down into the roots. I stood before the living elders and appreciated their their steady climb, their persistence, the threats to their existence and I bowed my head and offered prayers for their safe keeping.

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