Entering the Tunnel
Through the canopy of green, into the dark interior of forest: I enter the tunnel, to walk with spirit on the journey home.
When I come through the passage and emerge into the soft light, with the branches all around, the trunks standing solid beside me, I have reached the realm of spirit-life, the world where time and I are one, where my movements and the universe are in order.
There is no mad rush of excitement or destruction here, no harried anxiety about money, no urgent work of human hands: only the shimmering light and shadow, the wavering branches and coasting clouds.
Now, much later, the tunnel before me is the trail of ink, the thread of understanding I seek through this parade of words.
Home means more than a peaceful glade in the forest. It means coming to the place of "I am" with my present surroundings: the wooden tabletop, and the hum of machinery pervasive in the air.
Yes, even in this forested valley where I have made my home, I must recognize the other reality: the industrial basin this valley has become.
Living here on a daily basis, I must pay for my privilege of contact with the outside world: my phone line, computer, road access . . . the familiar lifeline--or comfort line--of material goods.
A year ago, a permit was approved for a logging road through the most sensitive area of my watershed, where the springs that feed my creek are most likely recharged.
My neighbors and I were left with a sense of futility and powerlessness. We could attempt to assert the power that remained to us--to lobby and petition and even to blockade--and still we would face the likelihood of being squashed under the steamroller of this industrial machine that our government has sent here.
Whether we are in the minority or majority is immaterial: because our long-term interests are pitted against easy money to be raked off the land, and in this conflict we have no relative weight: we are brushed aside in the rush for profits. When the trees are gone, and our water flows no more, there will be other--though diminishing--fields of conquest, and our struggle will remain a bitter memory in the general unconcern. Those who have profited will enjoy the brief harvest feast, without thought of the coming winter.
An astute political scientist would probably show that the present system of government was created, or has evolved, precisely for the purpose of furthering commercial interests above all others. If it's clear that the system is stacked against the interests of the smallholder and the rural community, what then can be done?
It's not so simple as the history of successful nonviolent action might show. Because here the oppressed group must compete against the perceived interests of the general population for short term access to lumber, jobs and "a healthy economy."
Whether such benefits are genuine, or simply a trumped-up rationale for the giant corporations who are profiting directly from the log-everywhere policy, is open to question. These same corporations, for instance, have reduced jobs in the logging industry through mechanization. Whatever the corporate role, the consumerist lifestyle, favored by so many, demands that logging continue--even when there is nowhere left to log but in sensitive watersheds and parklands.
There is left a clear, if simplistic, choice: Cut, or cut back.
Recently the tensions in my own community have become so heated that something had to give. We all shared some common ground: the desire to get along as friends and neighbors, and the willingness to sit down and work this thing out.
A process of exploring creative solutions--fresh approaches that respect the basic needs of both sides--has begun. A year or more of delay in the controversial road construction is likely to give us room to continue talking in a positive spirit.
Meanwhile, in the neighboring Slocan Valley, road construction began this week over mass protests at New Denver Flats. Seven dignified citizens were arrested, and the giant bulldozer-god, to the cheers of the counter-demonstrating millworkers, rolled past. The mill will enjoy 2-3 weeks of work from the old-growth trees to be cut from New Denver Flats, a vulnerable watershed area. The bulldozer's progress up the road was flanked by a gauntlet of silent witnesses: 375 concerned valley residents forced from its path, and a squadron of police riot troops standing guard.
From within the telescope of this tunnel, the long view is that this is a basic battle of the course of civilization: a turning point. Are we to continue on the road hacked out thus far over the last ten thousand years--hacking at an ever-increasing pace as we go--or are we to rest awhile, evaluating our present status, surveying the country around and ahead of us, taking stock, and perhaps deciding to stay where we are, go back down the road a ways, or even depart the road altogether for a forest path?
Unlikely scenario. But in the meantime the superhighway roars on to the
ends of the earth. The quaint homestead, the hillside spring are figments
of a vanishing present, and the air hums with the sound of engines at work.
© Nowick Gray
"Entering the Tunnel" appears in the 2014 collection, My Country: Essays and Stories from the Edge of Wilderness.
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