Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Walk in the Woods

AW and I headed out to Lake Fayetteville this morning to hike. And why not? It was a beautiful day, and we've obviously been having crazy and unseasonably cool temperatures. I'd be crazy NOT to take advantage of such a lovely day.

Out we went, AW, me, and AW's dog. Lake Fayetteville is a fairly easy hike--it's partially paved--and the trail is well established and reasonably flat. I run out there occasionally because it's such a nice loop.

While we were out there, I started wondering how the woods looked right after the big ice storm last January. If you recall, the world looked something like this for a while:

Every tree in Fayetteville had lost limbs. Our city looked like a warzone for months. While the city had cleared out the brush from all of the more busy zones, our parks and trails took a lower priorty, and they were shut down throughout the rest of the winter and early spring.

Anyway, there were definitely signs of the work that had been done out on the Lake Fayetteville loop. We saw branches and hewn logs that had been tossed to the sides of the path. We saw tree stumps where trees used to stand in the middle of the trail. And one path--an usused portion that passes by the lake and then loops to the main path--still had many tree branches crossing it and making it difficult to pass.

The thinking about how the trails and woods around the trail used to look led me to think about how people cleared up the debris. This process then led me to think about how people can actually improve our environment.

We are used to thinking about ourselves as a very destructive species. We pollute, we damage, we kill rain forests, we are responsible for the deaths of many species, even our own. Thinking of human beings as an agent for growth and improvement is not something we're used to.

We are, however, capable of leaving the world off better than we found it. I was first introduced to this philosophy--being a Caretaker--through Lance, and also through Tom Brown's book, Grandfather. Brown tells his readers a story of how the forests tended by people who cared about the land were actually healthier than forests that were left to nature. The trees were more vigorous, the land more green, the animals happier because they had more to eat. People were agents in making the world better.

Michael Pollan talks about the same idea in his book about gardening, Second Nature. He looks at the case of a city dealing with the destruction of many trees, and how there was resistance to removing the debris and replanting. Pollan's thought was that humans could improve the land by planting more trees and essentially gardening the area, yet some were resistant to the idea of taking "control" of the land in such a way.

It's not about controlling, but about helping out where our talents and resources allow us to. Gardening is not really about controlling nature, but about guiding what we're given and creating something productive from it. Cultivated land doesn't mean destroyed land; when tended properly, the soil and the environment actually benefits from human involvement.

The woods looked better for having some of the debris cleared out, and the tree damage was hard to spot with the luscious green growth all around. I was glad to have the reminder that we are capable as a species of leaving the world better off.

1 comment:

Justin Ray said...

Ya know, the historical accounts of the very first European explorers who arrived on American soil talk about pristine forests so well-maintained that one could drive a carriage through them. Those accounts are few, though, and overshadowed by the far more numerous accounts of those who came back fifteen to twenty years later to establish permanent colonies. This was after the Native American population had been decimated by disease, and what did these new pioneers report? Primordial, overgrown forest.

Recent research also shows that over 90% of the tree growth in the Southeast before European colonization was of the delicious nut-bearing type.

Some researchers even think that the Amazon Rainforest is no such thing, but is actually the untended and diminishing remnant of a complex food-producing tree garden.

Caretaking is cool.