Once I woke to the sound of the ocean. Now, every morning at 5 a.m., I wake to the distant whine of chainsaws. It's taken me a few weeks to discover the source of this disruption. Now I merely look through the picture window in the living room and across the lake to see it clearly. Half the mountain has been shaved of trees. And it seems they won't be stopping there.
At 5 a.m. the spectacle of carnage is illuminated by red floodlights. At that hour, I'm too drowsy to feel anything but annoyance. Later, when I look across to the rising cut line and trees lying haphazardly where once they stood tall, I feel sadness.
Let me make this clear--I am not a tree-hugging hippy. I buy Clingwrap and paper towels and Italian leather handbags. Sometimes I print manuscripts on Multiuse Bright White Paper rather than FSC Certified-Eco Responsible-Multiuse Paper simply because I think it looks more professional. I know when I complain about logging I become a hypocrite. So be it. I am a tree-loving hypocrite. While I often buy products to reflect my love for trees, since I've moved to the heart of a logging town I've begun to wonder if a 12-pack of recycled toilet tissue is the solution.
Here's a little story:
A newcomer to Lake Cowichan goes to the Community Centre for her shift as a volunteer receptionist. During tea break, she says: "I've been wondering why they've chosen to clear cut so close to town. It would be so much nicer to look up at tree-clad mountains instead of bare patches."
Employment Counsellor #1 (EC1): "Clear cuts are good things. They're much more efficient than any other method."
EC2: "When I was a little girl, all of the mountains surrounding the town were completely bare. Now there are lots of trees in comparison.
EC1: "Our grand-daddies planted those trees you see now. It's about time to harvest them."
Harvest. I look up at the mountains, imagining them planted with corn or wheat. The trees are simply ripe crops ready for consumption. But I don't feel depressed when I pass a freshly plowed field or a combine harvester. Why does the sight of a grapple skidder make me want to weep?
This town is built on the reaping of such a harvest. Just take a walk down Cottonwood, Alder, or Pine. Smoke rises happily from the chimneys. Well-kept houses stand proud. I always think of the first stanza of a poem by David Day (ex-Cowichan logger):
Timbers of this tall
house remember how it is
to sway in the wind
It seems we humans have a knack for taking what isn't ours. Perhaps that's why I mourn the rising of the cut line. For awhile we gave the forest back (albeit a poor facsimile of what formerly stood), but now we're claiming it again. And again. Trees aren't harvested, they're stolen. Will the theft stop when everyone buys eco-responsible paper and reclaimed ("antique") timber products? What if you can't afford such things (like 80% of the world's population) or don't even know they exist?
For over a hundred and fifty years the loggers of Lake Cowichan have picked up their saws. Will they stop now just because a tree-loving hypocrite feels sad? Friends wonder why I don't just pack my bags and return to the cabin in the woods where the sound of the ocean wakes me. I wonder, too. Maybe this is the reason. Maybe I need to feel a little front-line sadness. Maybe emotion will trump buying recycled toilet tissue in the end. We are supposed to be human, after all. In a town where going green is the same as going crazy, should I just go human? Could the world be saved one teardrop at a time?
Thank you for reading.