When I was a kid, my dad took our family out camping in a trailer he built out of plywood with a double bunk bed–the top for us three siblings, the bottom for my parents. Next was a “five-man” dark green umbrella tent. Campgrounds were full of treasures: silence under tall fir as cooking pots clinked on Coleman stoves, we hiked to and from the baths carrying towel and soap, sat by bonfires flaming, snapping, then dying with sighs and growing darkness.
We visited a number of dams, so impressed Dad was with the feats of engineering, and no doubt the promise of irrigation inland in Washington State. I still have a granite core taken from the Grand Coulee. On our way there I remember stopping in the middle of nowhere for him to show us shale and explain how it formed. And he often told tales of old fires that blackened the forests we drove through.
He studied forestry in college, but never did work with those skills. Rather, he worked for a pulp mill, then paper mill that stewed wood chips to make paper. If he love the woods, how did he ever reconcile destroying them to make something else? If a forest fire was a disaster, weren’t log trucks dieseling through the forest with cut trees just as much a tragedy?
My partner and I spent a few days last week near Port Angeles to view the Elwha River, free to flow wherever its heart pleases. Pure joy. Five years since it was liberated, it has flooded the river road that partnered it, and built up shoals at its mouth to invite perch and smelt, clams and oysters to thrive. Will we ever return to natural sources of energy, rather than sealing off canyons to force water to meet our needs or ruin the environment with mines, slag and polluted air?
I am a fan of progress, but I lament the loss of natural habitat–concrete that seals earth over. I rejoice at the grass that–not so slowly–begins to break through the cracks, and can break down walls.
I stand on Queen Anne or First Hill in Seattle trying to imagine our hills covered in fir, cedar, and hemlock, such ancient forests that little undergrowth thrived. One could walk through the trees on moss and duff for miles, or near ancient native middens, seeing our snow-capped mountains only in rare clearings or above the tree line.
Must we continue to destroy this fragile earth, our home? Earth will win in the end. Civilizations rarely continue to stand once we’re gone and vegetation regrows. We nurture huge cedar in our backyard just to maintain a sense of the wilderness.