Did you know that March 21st is the International Day of Forests? It was established back in 2012 by the United Nations General Assembly. Not many people know that because it is not highly publicized; social media is filled with reminders of international days of, cupcakes included, to the point of rendering us nauseated. Forests of all things should not be left aside. We exist because they exist. Coincidentally, March 21st is the first day of spring, so let’s hope the reminder sticks.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of trees and forests. Take a look around you next time when you’re out in nature and imagine all trees gone. An extremely sobering image and extreme at that too, but good enough to drive home the point.
Most of us love being in a forest. While the conscious mind might have been trained or got used to liking urban environments, the subconscious and your body as a whole love the places where nature is mostly untouched. Blame it on some primal conditioning – it’s impossible the thousands of years humans and nature have worked at it.
There is a feeling of peacefulness I have come to crave every morning while out with the dog. Weather conditions notwithstanding, we follow the trails all the way to the thicker woods. There is the occasional flap of crow wings above us, the chirping of small birds as they hop from tree to tree and the distant hum of the creek. The buzz of the city ceases to tag along though we see it from up there. Dog and I sit among the trees and watch the world be for a few long minutes. We leave a bit better for it every time.
Also, perspective adjusts itself, invariably. There is a whole city we’re looking at – living and breathing and needing so much in order to keep on going and growing too. And yet, it’s almost impossible not to think of how that reflects on the surrounding nature. What are we taking and what are we giving back? How fair is the trade?
Trees and forests are a good place to think about this – literally and otherwise. We rely on wood to build everything we can think of that is part of our modern day living. We use wood as is and processed in various ways, and life as we know could not happen the same way without it.
But then come the big questions: how much of what we harvest (and we do harvest lots – around 40 million hectares of forests between 2001 and 2017, for example,) ends up wasted or processed into least durable products, or single-use ones including toilet paper; how much of the wood stays in Canada after all and what’s the best way to log, since by now we know clearcutting is a forest’s worst nightmare.
That in 2019 we can still find toilet paper made from virgin wood fibre rather than recycled is mindboggling; or that we still use wrapping paper (non-recyclable) as well as paper cups, billions of them! Then again, out of the 6 million tonnes of paper Canadians use, approximately a quarter is recycled. Why? Natural resources may seem infinite; they are anything but.
The many perks and comforts of our life nowadays carry the necessity to question whether we are doing everything we can to honour our end of the deal in the people vs. nature trade. So far we are not.
Forests are not just forests. They are worlds. Animals, big and small, birds, bugs and fungi, plants of all kinds, they are all part of the web of life so complex we have yet to unravel it fully and understand its mysteries. And yet…how do we recognize their essential role?
When a tree dies naturally, the forest is further supported by its death. When we cut it and take it away, there’s a different story unfolding. Yet one tree will not cause the demise of an entire habitat.
On the other hand, when an entire portion is logged with big machinery trampling all over, devastation ensues. We say that nature always finds a way to rebuild itself. That may be so. But while nature may be resilient, we are relentless in pursuing its riches and, much to our shame, squander too much of them. the two cannot go together forever without one side collapsing, which causes the other to follow.
When a big part of a forest disappears, that area changes forever; it bounces back, but it will never be the same. The ecosystem changes (see the case of the disappearing boreal caribou and the forests their existence depends on.) When a forest is decimated by clearcutting, it becomes an alien space that is ultimately less responsive to our needs, and less able to maintain that primal connection we may not be aware of but which we depend on. Somehow, we all know that to be true; it’s high time we show it.
Recommended reading: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World, by Peter Wohlleben, foreword by Peter Flannery (Greystone Books, 2016).