Caring for Our Forests

by Markus Heinz

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

ancient Greek proverb

Here on the West Coast, the forest is everywhere around us and within us. West of the coastal mountain ranges, it’s hard to imagine a place where you can see the horizon in every direction, as our tall, evergreen forests are one of the dominant landscape features, working in harmony with the sea and the mountains to make this part of the world so breathtakingly beautiful.

For millennia, these dark, coniferous forests have sustained the people who live here and determined the ways humans could survive and make a living here. They provide food and fuel, material for building and crafts, shelter, spiritual nourishment and endless recreational opportunities. They sustain a vast array of animal and plant life and are a paradise for mushroom enthusiasts. But ever since Europeans started coming here and especially since the advent of industrialisation, these forests have also suffered unbelievable exploitation and abuse.

Coming up the driveway at Glenora Farm, you see second-growth forest left and right. Beautiful as these woods are, they don’t have a single towering, centuries-old tree left in them. There are traces of what once was everywhere on our property: huge old stumps, still only half-decayed, nursing young trees, supporting a multitude of smaller life forms. They still show the notches and marks of being logged almost a century ago, while others are charred from forest fires that may have occurred even further in the past!

Our forest crew has the goal of opening up, managing and beautifying these forests for our community and generations to come, all while sustainably extracting the firewood and lumber we need. Jonah is our three-year-old crew leader, supervising Gary and myself and helping us with his little wheelbarrow. Julius has been part of the crew for the past two months. Recently, we’ve been hard at work clearing the building site for our new farmhouse. For some of the bigger Douglas firs leaning towards the garden, we worked with an experienced faller. It was fascinating and instructive to see him take them down, all perfectly in the same safe direction with only the help of a come-along and wedges.

We are self-trained and curious. We come home with new discoveries and questions to research every day. We make mistakes and learn from them. We practice newly learned methods and hone our skills all the time. We tread lightly and choose hand tools over noisy machines whenever possible so we can listen to the forest and try to find out what it needs. We pay attention to the small details of the intricate, vast network around us. We share our forest with ants and beetles, woodpeckers and squirrels, eagles, deer, bears, cougars and the herd of majestic Roosevelt elk that we like to think of as part of our community. We are foresters, and we love our work!

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