My Story – Transforming Anger into Action Close to Home – What To Do About “Unsustainable Logging”? How To Turn “Things or Objects” into Nouns We Care For?

A Woman Hugging a Noun Called “Old-Growth Tree”

“If I choose not to become attached to nouns – a person, place or thing – then when I refuse a intimate’s love or hoard my spirit, when a known landscape is bought, sold and developed, chained or grazed to stubble, or a hawk is shot and hung by its feet on a barbed wire fence, my heart cannot be broken because I never risked giving it away.

But what kind of impoverishment is this to withhold emotion, re restrain our passionate nature in the face of a generous life just to appease our fears? A man or woman whose mind reins in the heart when the body sings desperately for connection can only expect more isolation and greater ecological disease. Our lack of intimacy with each other is in direct proportion to our lack of intimacy with the land. We have taken our love inside and abandoned the world.”

Terry Tempest Williams from Winter Solstice at the Moab Slab

I immediately thought of this searing quote by Terry Tempest Williams when I read the remarkable opinion piece by Susan Simard in the Globe and Mail this morning. And just a little while ago I shared on Facebook her heart-cry to our dwindling forests here in B.C. Susan is a B.C.-based forestry expert whose ground-breaking work on understanding how trees connect underground through roots and fungal connectors has given us utterly new and profound insights to the interconnectedness of things that keep us and our planet alive.

Noted B.C. writer Yvonne Blomer expressed in a comment to my post how frustrated she is about all that is happening with forestry here in B.C. and I said back to her on Facebook: ME TOO! Then I wrote some words I have expanded into this blog post! Thank you Yvonne for the trigger!

I know we have a new forestry plan for B.C., unveiled last week, that will give greater voice to native communities and might protect more old-growth forests which is great but I am not sure it is nearly enough. My heart winces every time I go to visit my grand daughter on Salt Spring island when I see the mountains of logs being loaded on to ocean-going ships in the Crofton harbour. Really Mr. Horgan? Really Mr. Premier?

Why aren’t forestry worker up in arms over this as much as they are about protestors trying to protect our priceless remaining old growth forests? And why isn’t the government helping forestry workers transition into other jobs that ultimately will not threaten life forms on the planet like forestry is now doing. How to put back true “sustainability” into sustainable logging. I hear the impassioned cries of forestry workers, men and women and their families, about how their jobs are precious and must be protected but at what cost. Do they truly understand the cost to our world if we don’t slow down the pillaging of our forests? Do they understand the danger to our world Susan Simard’s work is revealing to us?

First this admission: I am complicit. I sit inside a wooden house with wooden floors and fir trim around doors and windows. But surely there is a “true” way to have sustainable logging that does not endanger our very well-being!

Now to make this personal. To write in the spirit of Terry Tempest Williams’s paragraphs above. Paragraphs which if taken to heart must change a heart. So here is my story and response to the trees falling not just deep within B.C. far from cities but to the trees falling all around me in the Cowichan Valley here on Vancouver Island on private lands then often sold for development. So a month or so and this close to home, literally, and perhaps not so obviously-awful some new neighbours a ways down our road in the country moved in and then took out all the trees that bookended an existing field. There were a lot. They decided they needed more field space for grass and horses. I get their’s is private land. Yet, we share the air and water! And the trees have a huge impact on air and water as we know. Now more runoff off into already compromised Quamichan Lake.

Now our neighbour’s field has nothing left standing except a few deciduous trees and a humungous bulldozer used to raze the field. I am not grateful for that tree loss but I am for this: the owners at some expense ground down the fifteen or so mountains of tree debris and stumps into mulch and much of it now sits ready to be spread on a neighbour’s land. Thank god for that mercy. I know clearly “taking down a few” trees on an existing field may not seem like much since seemingly there are so many trees still around us. But when does that argument fail? When will there not be enough? And when will we see that so much that we live amongst are not commodities to be sold to the highest bidder but part of a sacred network of living things that keep us and our world alive.

Rightly or wrongly I felt such helpless anger when the trees in our neighbour’s field began to fall. A rage. But I kept with it inside and after talking with my dear-heart spouse I thought what if instead of reacting to destruction destructively what could we do constructively. And then I thought of the one and a half acre field that is part of our three acre property. What if in the face of trees being taken away we planted some trees in response. And so we came up with our project to eventually convert our field into a Garry Oak meadow with native plants and grasses. This part of southern Vancouver Island used to be home to a large Garry Oak forest and distinctive plants and grasses that lived inside it. Only remnants remain of this once great forest.

We have started by planting ten Garry Oaks from a few feet in height to more than six feet and next week will lay down plastic on about ten percent of the field to burn off invasive plants and grasses in preparation for seeding native grasses and plants in the fall. I am still sad at my neighbour’s decision but the rage has gone. Our trees won’t begin to replace what was taken but it is a start physically and, as important , emotionally. I want to see this land not as something just for me to exploit (its trees were taken to make way for our house) but something I might see as wonderous and sacred!

I was reminded of this other way of looking at our world not only by Terry Tempest Williams but by the great late Canadian and poet Don Domanski. Don says what he says in the context of poetry and how it is designed to notice what is sacred . But I don’t think you need to be a poet to hear the truth in his words from his 2006 essay Poetry and the Sacred taken from a talk to Malaspina University College in 2005:

Mindfulness, one of the main components of poetry, has become a subversive act in a civilization so fixated on the self. It’s a sad commentary on our society when opening up our hearts and eyes has become seditious behavior. Without mindfulness, there is no poetry, no art, no spiritual development, only the barrenness of a self separated from the rest of existence.

What a line: only the barrenness of a self separated from the rest of existence. Don goes on:

It takes a great deal of effort to see what’s in front of you, whether that’s a stone, a mountain, or another person. After much watching, after much witnessing of the metamorphoses from object to presence, you find that everything is self luminous. If you observe something long enough, its being comes forth, the isness of the thing is made manifest. You end up feeling the sacredness of its presence in time and space. In Ulysses, James Joyce says it well: “ Any object intensely regarded, may be a gate of access to the incorruptible eon of the gods.”

I wonder what might have happened, and maybe it did, if my neighbours had spent time in those fringes of forest on their field and saw what dwelled there. Heard how the trees moved in the wind. Seen the creatures that lived there. Could they have then made another decision, decided on fewer horses, more trees? Not no to their plans for their horses but yes to a smaller more sustainable one.

What Went Rolling Down the Highway Near Nanaimo a Week or So Ago! Photo Credit: Lorna Beecroft. Facebook.

Many of you have likely seen the searing image of the old growth log being transported an hour up-island from me to a mill a few weeks ago. It was so large it could hardly fit inside the truck’s logging trailer. Maybe it is this kind of picture that will open up our hearts to what is happening and make it personal. Maybe we will become more attached to nouns as Terry Tempest Williams says.

Maybe will see these nouns differently. Nouns like fir tree, spruce tree, roots, fungus, air and water. Maybe the old growth and old growth logs will become personal and feel more like a family member not a thing to be discarded with the hubris of one who feels they have ownership of the “thing”. Maybe we will begin to feel more like stewards not owners. Maybe the young mother here in B.C. , profiled in the Toronto Star who runs a blog supporting the logging industry will see these 1,000 year old trees more as children not food on the plate. Maybe she will help make logging something that will sustain her children and grand children and not destroy the planet they are meant to inherit.

Meanwhile it is ironic I owe my neighbours down the road some thanks. Their actions are leading to the birth of a new meadow of trees. Much smaller but a new eco-system of trees and their familiars, their associated animals and plants. And I hope we will get to see them grow for some years before we die. And as I approach 70 years old that means something.


  1. Heidi Garnett
    Posted June 12, 2021 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    So true, Richard. It hurts me to see trucks barreling down the highway with loads of cut trees. Each week we receive a local newspaper. It’s only a few pages of news. The rest of the thick wad of paper is advertising. Mostly large food stores. In England years ago the paper ads that came to our house were small black and white pieces of paper listing that week’s specials. Why are we so wasteful with paper? Think how many trees might be saved if we demanded a change to the way advertising is communicated? I’m going to post a picture of me holding all of the flyers we receive weekly.

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted July 30, 2021 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Takes me so long to remember to respond! Oh this world of ours. It created us and now we are changing it so dramatically. And that seems to be the way of this planet! Yikes.

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