I have a forest.
It’s not mine, of course. No forest could be. More truthfully, a forest has me, has enthralled me with the happy accident of its existence, its odd survival on the slopes of a hill otherwise cleared of anything not man-made.
It’s part of a park, actually, one of those odd, unmarked areas in this city not easily built-upon, gifted by some wealthy landowner a century ago back to the city. At its lowest end, there’s a children’s playpark, and to its south is an elementary school, and behind all that? Forest.
Not the forest that was once here, of course. Most of the trees of Seattle went to San Francisco, that city which seemed not to be help itself but to burn down repeatedly. And of course, there are hardly any trees in San Fransico, because they were using these trees for wood.
Instead of the ancient stands, there are towering maples, small isolated cedars, and clusters of red alder. Ferns, likely recent plantings. Patches of Oregon grape clinging to the hillside. Children from the elementary school and volunteers from Earthcorps planted stands of Salmonberry at the top of the hill where the stream begins.
Of course, the stream is dry now, though the rains are coming. I’ve followed its path what little distance I could, avoiding stepping into the the muck to prevent damage to the fragile plants competing with the blackberries. I walked along fallen trees (quite a few of them, unfortunately) pulling out hauls of old cans and bottles, because you can’t have a stream without throwing trash into it, right?
There’s a sadness I feel when I go there, even as the place gives me great joy. North a few blocks is another, more well-tended “greenspace” which could easily connect to this one were it not for the roads and a few houses in the way, including the one I’m renting. It’s hard not to see how they could connect–and spread–without experience a deep sorrow, almost a rage.
I’m not a “home-owner,” so I have no rights to plant trees in the median between the street and the sidewalk, something which requires a permit in this city to keep the sidewalks from buckling and the utility lines “safe” from falling branches. I looked at the list of “approved” trees–only one of them is actually native to this area. That is, the two restored forests cannot legally be connected by the trees which grow therein.
But I could own 17 cars if I wanted, so that’s some comfort, yes?
Needing What Suffocates You
That forest is becoming my playground, my grove, and also a symbol for all the other stuff I’m trying to understand. The blackberries which choke the riparian zone are of particular interest as I cull them. When restoring large areas, it’s quite bad to cut them all away at once. The ground beneath them is useless for a bit, and they provide cover even as they’ve choked out all possible other cover. Particularly in this area, they’ve also served to keep people away from the stream, brambled walls to prevent entry to the more vulnerable spots. Also, they hold the fragile soil in place and provide habitat for ground-dwelling animals and small birds, as well as food.They’ve become important, vital, but only because they displaced what otherwise would have filled that role.
As I cut them and they lacerate the skin on my arms, I find myself thinking on the Emperor or Lord card from Tarot, the boundary-maker, the “masculine” impulse of culling and order. I’m uncomfortable with it, even as I know it should happen. Staring at the shears in my hand, knowing the death I bring is necessary for the whole of the forest, always gives me pause.
Also, I spend most of my time there thinking about the rest of my life, and particularly the demands of society against the forests which it consumes to sustain itself. If Eugene didn’t threaten to make me a primitivist, this small patch of forest, of which I am currently the sole caretaker, seems to want to continue the convincing.
Though, of course, I’m not a primitivist, but I fucking wish we had more forests.
A pagan writer wrote an inscrutable critique of Peter Grey’s essay, Rewilding Witchcraft. A friend re-titled that critique, humorously, “Re-Milding Witchcraft: A guide to feeling good about yourself without the uncomfortable or challenging bits.” I don’t think the critic quite comprehends the implications of the argument he is proposing, nor quite the context in which his arguments function. Quite often, we don’t.
Seeing the extreme damage Capitalism is doing to the land is enraging, but what one does with that rage depends less on the “character” of the person than on how vested one is in Capitalism. I don’t just mean profit-motive….very few of us are actually “Capitalists” in the precise definition of the term (a person who employs others to increase their wealth–that is, business owners with employees). Most of us, instead, are subjects of Capitalism, though some benefit more than others, some “buy-in” more than others, some tether themselves more fully to the continuation of the system than others. The more you own and want to own, the more you consume and want to consume, the more tied you are to the continuation of Capitalism.
If you have a mortgage, you need Capitalism to continue long enough to give you an income to keep a roof over your head. Same with an auto loan. If you own stock or have any stock-based retirement plan, your future is directly tied to the success of Capitalism. If you went to college and have loans, you require the employers for whom you work to succeed at their goal (profit) so they continue paying you so you can pay back your education. In essence, the more you’ve tried to do with yourself, the more you’ve worked to have a good life within this system, the more you desperately need the system to continue in order to sustain it.
On the other hand, the less you have, the less you’ve gotten, the lower the class you were born in, the less you need this terrifying Carnival of Capital. If you don’t own a car, you don’t owe money to a bank and you don’t need to buy gas and pay insurance and repairs. Your choice not to own a car may never actually have been
a choice at all, but your poverty divorces you from the system enough that you’ve less reason to want to cling to it.
For all the other things you need but cannot obtain due to poverty, there’s Social programs, bits of socialism within a Capitalist system that keep you on life support even as you find yourself collectively derided for wanting to survive at all.
The forest makes more sense, I think, to those with little. There’s food in there, and a place to hide and think and not feel poor. Also, its rules are nothing like the rules of Capitalism. If it requires us, it’s only that we clean up our mess and undo the damage our activity has wrought upon it. In this particular one, there’s a spirit I’ve encountered, both playful and feral. It can’t be bought or negotiated with, because there’s nothing I have that it needs. I gave it a gift, it liked it, and that’s about all.
There’s no economy between us, the forest and myself, except perhaps that old one of gifting. I give it gifts. It gives me gifts. I don’t think we recognize the gifts we’re receiving from each other. It takes me several days to understand what it gave me. I think it’s still waiting to see the purpose of the ones I’m giving it.
But if either of us needs the other, I suspect I need it more than it needs me. Mostly, all I can really do for it is to protect it and help it spread. Maybe tell stories about it so others might go look for it, or another one like it, and maybe try to restore another place.
Or, better–maybe I can convince others to stop being so vested in an arrangement of society which kills forests.
My best friend asked me last week how comfortable I am with the implications of my own ideas, knowing that advocating an end of Capitalism will lead to the death of those who insist on clinging to an arrangement that benefits them at the expense of all others. Some people will insist on choking out all others, overtaking what’s left of the world, and then offering things in return. Food. Shelter. Protection.
You need us, they’ll say.
And I’ll remember the blackberries.