27 January 1998
The Curtain of Trees
This morning I go out walking early in the woods and up the ridge behind the house, into the forest, through which I can hear the orchestra of human activity beginning to warm up for its daily performance: commuters on the road across the lake, headed for the early shift at the mill. Chainsaws muffled in the distance. Lone planes and helicopters droning overhead.
Around me, the trees wait silently, their days numbered. I have to ask myself, how hard will I be willing to fight for the lives of these trees, my trees, trees like casualties of war, dying for someone else's profit.
Squatting on the hump of the ridge facing the thin, sheltering curtain of trees, I hear the rumble of traffic as from an urban scene. This is it, already close, that unmistakable feeling of rushing, of energy in urgent motion somewhere, to do something...is it a headlong rush to the end of history, or merely a race against individual death?
Either way, my own life seems caught in its path. Only for the moment, I take the leisure to linger contemplatively among these old trees; they, like me, holding out against the human storm. For an even briefer instant I can visualize this hillside as a clearcut, like so many shorn hills I've planted, full of black stumps on razed ground.
What is this affinity I feel for the living forest? Is there something sacred about trees? Certainly they are kin in a number of respects: we have a majority of our respective DNA in common, and share a reliance on sophisticated hormone systems; we interact in a breathing network of life energy. All around me they rise graceful, powerful, ancient and noble in form...holding the land in our trust.
But what role do such esoteric factors play in the human drama? I think back on how hard it was in 1970, or 1983, to convince the job force that human life was more sacred than the buck or some other more theoretical distraction: a tough business. So it's the same old war, isn't it? Does it matter whether the genetic material is Asian, or African, or Amerindian, or Douglas Fir? It's all part of the continuing exploits of the industrial model human. War on all else, for his satisfaction.
From the sound of his engines, it's obvious that he's in a tremendous hurry-but for what? To taste the illusion of glory before the inevitable void comes to swallow him up? To fulfill the historical karma of the collective race?
The trees sway in a gentle breeze. I stand up, loosening my cramped knees. I look at my watch: time to be getting to work.
What am I in a hurry for? Oh, I, too, have a backlog of ambitions in various categories, and a pressing greed to get on with them. Money, approval, success...I'm driven like all the rest.
Instead of simply enjoying where I am.
I squat down again momentarily, in front of the curtain trees. Then a more subtle veil lifts, and I realize that I'm the advance guard, the microphone in the woodwork, the fox among chickens.
The act has already begun.
I walk back to my house at the edge of the forest, a certain slowness in my stride.
© Nowick Gray
"The Curtain of Trees" appears in the 2014 collection, My Country: Essays and Stories from the Edge of Wilderness.
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