Walking through the woods to the post office, intent as usual on my own purposes and bodily exercise, I happen to notice: old stumps, moss-covered.
I stop, feeling something of importance in these old stumps I pass so often but notice so seldom. What is it?
These relics don't give a hoot for me. And yet, we live side by side. It strikes me that I haven't paid them enough attention. They are like forgotten children; or parents left behind to die, though they've sheltered me, and given me love and wisdom . . .
I walk on to the mail, getting my exercise.
But having noticed, having opened myself to that extent, now I can't get rid of them. Old stumps, moss-covered: they sit soft in my consciousness, age-rounded into breasts of a familiar lover. What do I do with them now?
--Give us attention, and love, and care.
Who said that?
--We forgive you
But I didn't--
--And your brother or neighbor: whoever cut us down.
Can this be true--forgiveness from the forest?
Somebody cut them down. Young ones grow up around the stumps, diffusing the pain, healing the vision until the old wounds are practically unnoticeable. This is good: instructive as to what works for humans too. But would it be better not to have cut them at all? It may as well be asked.
I will have to probe the lessons of history, geography, economics. Somebody likely made good use of that wood. I myself have turned the same trick on a number of specimens--leaving old stumps, moss-covered, on the forest floor.
To suggest an end to cutting always leads to argument. Questions from every human: What about me? Where will I get my lumber, my paper and furniture, my open space for sunlight, viewscape, road and garden?
I know it's extreme to say "No More." To tell others they cannot have what I have enjoyed. But things are changed, now, with three times the human numbers in my lifetime. Logic and mathematics and biology all conspire to say, there will come an end: because present rates of human growth and forest removal are insupportable.
Does an end to current rates mean an absolute end to cutting? Surely not, by all the evidence of past human nature. We are unlikely to worship tree spirits while slaughter among our own kingdom and species continues. Then the question is handed over to politics, to the business of deciding who can use the rate of cut that is supportable; and to philosophical ethics, speculation on the purpose of tree life and its role in serving human needs.
I am left in a quandary. My head is spinning, considering the factors of this ongoing and present dilemma: if it is a dilemma. Yes, for me, acknowledging the stumps and the nobility of the trees that still surround them, it is a dilemma. For every one cut, a priceless life lost. Are humans inherently more valuable than trees? Maybe and maybe not; but I still feel in my gut a kinship with them, a sympathy with their helplessness and with their right to reach ripe old ages and die natural deaths.
Yet I have cut and continue to cut trees, for my purposes. So what can I say? The old stumps are silent now, moss-covered and mute. They have passed on their message and now it is up to me. The newer, big live ones, are they next, on someone's list? Undoubtedly; and the younger ones to come.
Soon we won't be able to ignore the voices of the leftovers, these
ex-trees; we'll have to stop, noticing so many new ones. In their growing
numbers they will cry out to be noticed. We will have to wonder then
(as I do now, having once noticed) where this vision is headed. Because
a present vision noticed is a past wound acknowledged is a future laid
bare. Do we believe in that future? Humans multiplying endlessly, endlessly
cutting? Somewhere there is an end to it, and I feel it already. The
end comes when we notice, when the old stump is our lover, when we give
our one or two children attention and love and care; and having considered
all the pros and cons, still know to say to all those who ask, No More.
© Nowick Gray
"No Mas" appears in the 2014 collection, My Country: Essays and Stories from the Edge of Wilderness.
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