Readings from the Andrews Forest library

The promised thunderstorm has finally arrived in the McKenzie District, rattling overhead.  The forest ridge is receding in a blue veil of rain, and the scarlet, thumb-sized hummingbird that thrummed outside my window all day is suddenly nowhere to be seen.  Sleeping dry beneath a maple leave, maybe?   I’m writing in the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest library, watching sudden cascades of rainwater over-shoot gutters, self-sequestered with a big table and a wall of windows, yet easily distracted among dangling tangents of my own scribbled notes.  It’s been an amazing, whirl-wind Writer-in-Residence experience; tonight I’ll sleep in the forest, dreaming of owls and newts and alpine monkeyflowers no larger than my pinky-fingernail, almost ready to flower.  And I’ll tuck these poems away for a few weeks.  Perhaps they’ll germinate like squirrel-buried nuts while my attention is elsewhere.

A few resonant lines from recent readings, as I wrap up loose threads:

Barry Lopez (who has written about the Andrews Forest) from his essay “The American Geographies” in Finding Home: Writing on Nature and Culture from Orion Magazine. Edited by Peter Sauer.  (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992):

… As a boy I felt a hunger to know the American landscape that was extreme; when I was finally able to travel on my own, I did so. Eventually I visited most of the United States, living for brief periods of time in Arizona, Indiana, Alabama, Georgia, Wyoming, New Jersey, and Montana before settling years ago in western Oregon.

The astonishing level of my ignorance confronted me everywhere I went. I knew early on that the country could not be held together in a few phrases, that its geography was magnificent and incomprehensible, that a man or woman could devote a lifetime to its elucidation and still feel in the end that he or she had but sailed many thousands of miles over the surface of the ocean. So I came into the habit of traversing landscapes I wanted to know with local tutors and reading what had previously been written about, and in, those places. I came to value exceedingly novels and essays and works of nonfiction that connected human enterprise to real and specific places, and I grew to be mildly distrustful of work that occurred in no particular place, work so cerebral and detached as to be refutable only in an argument of ideas.

These sojourns in various corners of the country infused me, somewhat to my surprise on thinking about it, with a great sense of hope. Whatever despair I had come to feel at a waning sense of the real land and the emergence of false geographies–elements of the land being manipulated, for example, to create erroneous but useful patterns in advertising–was dispelled by the depth of a single person’s local knowledge, by the serenity that seemed to come with that intelligence. Any harm that might be done by people who cared nothing for the land, to whom it was not innately worthy but only something ultimately for sale, I thought, would one day have to meet this kind of integrity, people with the same dignity and transcendence as the land they occupied. So when I traveled, when I rolled my sleeping bag out on the shores of the Beaufort Sea or in the high pastures of the Absaroka Range in Wyoming, or at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I absorbed those particular testaments to life, the indigenous color and songbird song, the smell of sun-bleached rock, damp earth, and wild honey, with some crude appreciation of the singular magnificence of each of those places. And the reassurance I felt expanded in the knowledge that there were, and would likely always be, people speaking out whenever they felt the dignity of the earth imperiled in these places.

William R. Jordan III., “Restoration and the Reentry of Nature” also from Finding Home: Writing on Nature and Culture from Orion Magazine. Edited by Peter Sauer.  (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992):

Ecological restoration is in the odd condition of being a practice but still not quite an articulated idea.  Yet, as a response to a problem it is full of promise.  (…….) The plan was to create here on this hillside overlooking Lake Wingra a sample of the great hemlock-hardwood forest that once covered thousands of square miles in the northern part of the state.  By the 1930s that forest had been destroyed, and the resulting slash fires, soil erosion, and economic devastation contributed to the great economic and ecological disasters of that decade.  Here, however, someone decided to try again.  Sugar maples and hemlocks were planted in the light shade under a stand of old oaks.  Today their crowns are beginning to join those of the taller, older trees overhead.  In summer this is now a shady spot under the maples, and the understory is thinning in places, becoming more like proper maple forest understory.  On a bright fall day the place glows in sunlight filtered through a golden crown of maples.

The woods is not natural.  It is not artificial. It simply defies these distinctions; it is both.

“This,” I think, remembering the line from A Winter’s Tale quoted by Frederick Turner in his essay “Cultivating the American Garden,” “is an art / Which does mend Nature, change it rather; but / The art itself is nature.”

Nowhere is this art more evident to me that here on this hillside, walking under the trees of this planted forest.

Margaret Herring and Sarah Greene, from Forest of Time: A Century of Science at Wind River Experimental Forest. (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2007).

The canopy (studied from a gondola, dangling from the jib-arm of a giant crane that brings researchers 250 feet up, into the upper stories of the forest) was no longer seen as just a roof held up by wood. The Wind River canopy crane opened a world that is just beginning to reveal itself to scientists in the 21st century. (….) One of the first lessons scientists learned from their new vantage point was that the forest canopy was much more complex than they had imagined.  It was not just opened or closed.  The deep narrow crowns and undulations in the outer canopy created a complex surface with eight times more leave area than the ground below.  Gaps in that canopy opened to layers of lower canopies, creating stacks of microclimates and microhabitats.  Researchers referred to the layered structure as architecture and found plants and animals using different parts of that architecture for different purposes. (….) A notable characteristic of Douglas fir that caught the attention of researchers throughout the century was that these trees grow to be very big and very old.  What were the secrets to living old and well in the Pacific Northwest forests?

Afterword in Windfall journal’s “Poetry of Witness in the Northwest” issue:

It’s important to draw attention to these areas for a variety of reasons—because we need to express gratitude for the wonderful planet we inhabit, and we need to teach about places that might be damaged if no one is paying attention to them. And, most importantly, an intact natural world is the sine qua non for our very existence. Those of us with the financial resources, good health, free time, and geographic good luck to be able to go into the green world regularly need to continue to write poems of wild nature.

And from Joan Maloof, another previous Writer-in-Residence at the Andrews Forest (included in The Forest Log):

A Short Poem Early on a Fall Morning

The bracken is brown,
the maiden’s hair is turning gray,
you poets, with your list of names,
you will become silent when the snow falls.

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