Outrunning – Or Not?

Posted in Blog

Converting more than a dozen of our forests’ oldest, largest, and most beautiful cedars from standing, newly dead ghosts into paneling for who knows whose home gives me time to reflect.  Here is some of what’s floated to the surface:

We all know of individuals or communities that have successfully outrun a serious threat.  Perhaps it was a friend who outran a life threatening cancer, or villagers who received the warning needed to outrun the tsunami that soon destroyed their village.  At the same time, we also are mindful of those whose attempts to outrun a threat were not successful.

Over the past five years our family has become aware of a new threat that challenges our forests.  We have felt and worried about the new pressure of abnormally high summer temperatures.  Watching the mercury rise, we’ve wondered “Can the forest – and the individual species that call it home – take it and make it?”  The recent, rapid deaths of more than a dozen large, old, and apparently vigorous Western Red Cedars in one of the moistest, coolest corners of the forest shows that our concerns were not unfounded.  Our puzzlement is not unlike wondering why the fit, clean living, fifty year old friend died of a heart attack while those more vulnerable escaped.  Though we don’t know for certain what caused the high temperatures or whether they are to blame, these highly valued forest grandparents failed to outrun changing conditions – their adaptive capacity was not great enough to keep them alive.  Note: The oldest casualties were roughly 200 years old and five feet in diameter.  Cedar can live to 1,500 years.

As I fall, limb, buck, yard, mill and dry the wood, I can’t help wondering how other organisms – and the forest community as a whole – will respond to the escalating challenges that we assume will continue to come our way.  What will adapt and outrun? What will join these cedars on the list of those that succumbed?  One species that I can’t help wondering about is our own.  Are we trying to outrun challenges in this increasingly uncertain world?  If so, what is it that we hope to outrun?  Will we suceed?  Mulling this, I’m reminded of Gus Speth’s observation:

I used to think the top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought with 30 years of good science we could address those problems, but I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy – and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation and we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

Stowing the chainsaws in the truck and reviewing the three loads of cedar logs waiting on the landing for their ride on the tree taxi, I acknowledge that I agree with Dr. Speth.  Greed, selfishness and apathy are traits that our species can’t outrun, like the villagers running inland to escape the tsunami.  The only viable response to our weaknesses is to stop running,  turn, acknowledge, and confront them.

So, if you ever wonder what we think about while we work in the forest, there you have it….