In September 2006, I Went Back Into The Forest With A Pair Of Scissors. As I Cut The Yarn And Removed The Tags, I Noticed That Some Of The Trees Mostly Smaller Ones Had Died. They Hadn’T Died Because Of The Yarn But Because Their Time Was Up. Perhaps They Were Too Shaded, Infested By Insects, Or Genetically Weak. It Made Me Think Of The Individuals Whose Names Were On Those Tags. They Had Been Dead For Five Years, And Their Families Probably Assumed That, If It Weren’T For The Tragedy Of That Day, Their Loved One Would Still Be Alive. But In Reality, A Small Portion Of Those Victims Would Have Died In The Meantime From Other Causes. Even Young Ones.
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In Yesterday’S Newspaper, I Read A Story About A Fourteen-Year-Old Boy Who Went Swimming In A Warm, Shallow Pond In Arizona, Where An Amoeba That Feeds On Brain Tissue Splashed Up His Nose. A Week Later He Complained Of A Headache, Was Taken To The Hospital, And Soon Died. “Two Weeks Ago He Was Fine,” His Father Was Quoted As Saying, “And Now I’M Here Burying Him.”
Death Can Come At Any Time, For Trees Or For People. Many Of Us Have Mourned The Death Of A Tree We Were Very Familiar With, Perhaps One We Had Planted On The Lawn, But Our Experience Of Forest Trees Is Usually Much Less Personal. And The Loss Of One Tree In A Forest Simply Gives A Younger Tree Standing Nearby The Chance To Fill Its Fallen Comrade’S Ecological Niche.
I Have Argued In These Pages For The Welcome, And Necessary, Role Of Death In The Forest, But In Our Complex Human Culture, Mourning Is A Response To A Niche That Feels Suddenly Empty. Who Could Ever Replace That Particular Person?
Because Of My Interest In Native Forests, I Have Gotten To Know Other People Who Have Dedicated Much Of Their Lives To Educating Others And Speaking Out On Behalf Of The Non-Human Inhabitants Of The Forest. Their Research And Their Kindred Spirits Have Been Part Of The Fuel Keeping My Inner Light Glowing. Now, One After Another, They Are Dying: Bill Whitmore, Bob Degroot, Bob Zahner.
The Last On My List Of Irreplaceable Forest Advocates Who Died In 2007 Was Bruce Kershner. I Never Had The Honor Of Meeting Him, But I Followed In Many Of His Footsteps, Walking The Same Trails And Touching The Same Trees.
He Understood The Old Forests Of The East Better, Perhaps, Than Anyone. Often His Was The Final Determination In Deciding If A Forest Was Old Growth Or Not, And If He Said It Was Old Growth, I Was Interested In Visiting It. Just Seven Months After His Death, Kershner Was Honored By New York State’S Passage Of The “Bruce S. Kershner Old-Growth Forest Preservation And Protection Act,” Which Protects All Old-Growth Forests On State Land In New York. He Is One Man Who Really Made A Difference. Although I Never Knew Him Personally, And Cannot Miss Him In That Way, I Mourn The Fact That I Will Never Get To Meet Him, And That The World Has Lost One More Important Old-Forest Advocate.
Leverett Has Felt The Sting Of Loss, Too. Another Of The Ancient Trees Here He Named The Jani Pine, In Honor Of His Deceased Wife, And Recently He Named Another In Memory Of Kershner, His Good Friend And Co-Author.
As I Hiked Through This Massachusetts Forest, I Reminded Myself That These Men Who Loved Forests Understood The Whole Of Which The German Poet Rainer Maria Rilke Wrote. To A Friend Who Had Recently Lost Someone, Rilke Wrote:
All Of Our True Relations, All Of Our Penetrating Experiences Reach Through The Whole, Through Life And Death; We Have To Live In Both, Be Intimately At Home In Both…. We Are True And Pure Only In Our Willingness Toward The Whole.
In The Forest, It Is Somewhat Easier To Accept The Lessons Of The Whole. But I Still Feel A Space Where Each Of These Men Stood, And Pray There Will Be Other Special Humans Who Rise Up To Fill The Spaces They Have Left. The Persian Poet Rumi Said, “Days Are Sieves To Filter Spirit / Reveal Impurities, And Too, / Show The Light Of Some Who Throw / Their Own Shining Into The Universe.” These Special Men Have Indeed Thrown Their Shining Into The Universe. Now It Is Someone Else’S Turn To Shine.
When The Tags Came Off The Trees In The September 11th Memorial Forest, County Officials Announced That Forty Acres Of It Would Be Clear-Cut. As Bulldozers Pushed Roads Through The Forest, These Officials Tried To Tell The Reporter Covering The Story I Cared About It Only Because It Was In My Backyard As If That Were Something Selfish. I Hope Someday More People Will Understand That When Tree Huggers Work For The Protection Of A Forest, We Are Not Just Working For Our Own Pleasure. We Care Not Just Because It Is Our Backyard; We Care Because It Is The Backyard Of The World Including, If We Are Fortunate, Ruffed Grouse.