Looking for Old Trees

Here’s a segment from my essay “A Week in the Wild at Medawisla” from the Winter/Spring 2020 issue of Appalachia journal that never made it into the published version:

Sometimes the rug gets pulled out from underneath you. All week I had been looking at the forests and wondering about them. From the ponds, they were an impressive, unbroken, roiling ocean of green, but when I walked through the trees and saw their small and medium size, I was sorry they weren’t more impressive. A book I picked up in Medawisla’s lounge, “Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England” by Tom Wessels discussed the history of logging and I was struck by the loss of the white pine. White pine, now on their second or third growth in the area, used to be the giants of the East Coast, towering 150-feet or more above the ground. A grove of white pine, let alone a single tree, would be an awe-inspiring site. I couldn’t imagine it.

And then I saw one.

Late on a humid afternoon in Boston, I decided to drive to Walden Pond for a swim. Afterwards, I was in an exploratory mood, so on my way into Concord, I decided to visit the Hapgood Wright Town Forest. I had been by it many times, but never stopped to visit. To my surprise, a map of the forest had an “x” for a site labeled “Old Growth Pine.” A brochure said it was 50 inches in diameter and would have been a good size even in Thoreau and Emerson’s time. It was only about a 15 minute walk away. I had to see it.

The trail went around a small pond and alongside a swamp, where it narrowed and a few planks assisted with the muddy sections. I first glimpsed the trunk from about thirty feet away – so much thicker than any of its neighbors. When I arrived, I looked around in disbelief – there was nothing even close to this one in size. This was it alright. It had its own audience of ferns. I walked up to the tree and felt its coarse bark. And when I looked up the trunk, I nearly wept at the beauty. Branches splayed out in the crown and through them I could barely see the light fading from the sky. Even fifty feet up, the trunk, now split in two, remained elephantine. It was a universe unto itself. Had I waited a little longer, stars would have hung and shone in its branches.

I circled around it, looked up and down. And when it came time to leave, I couldn’t. And when I left, I came back to stand again in its presence. But the mosquitoes were hungry and darkness began to fall so I tore myself away. Not before vowing to return in the daytime, and fall and winter and every time I was nearby. Just to visit this wise old master of the Earth.

I thought of how long it took to grow an old forest; and I hoped that a century or two in the future, a paddler on one of the secluded Roach Ponds, would find a grove of old white pines and walk among and around them, and be impressed with a people who thought it important to conserve large tracts of forest for now and the future.

Los Cedros and the Rights of Nature

From my article in The Revelator:

Should nature have rights? That question is being put to the test right now in Ecuador.

The critically endangered brown-headed spider monkey, a resident of Los Cedros

In 2008 the South American country made history when its new constitution declared that nature had “the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes.” It was an unprecedented commitment, the first of its kind, to preserving biodiversity for future generations of Ecuadorians.

The constitutional change did not automatically protect nature, but it gave citizens  what the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature describes as “the legal authority to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the defendant.”

The country could soon make history again when its Constitutional Court hears a case that seeks to apply these rights of nature to a protected forest, known as Bosque Protector Reserva Los Cedros, against large-scale copper and gold mining.

The threat stems from a 2017 change in government policy that allowed mining concessions on 6 million acres of lands, including at least 68% of Los Cedros — part of a hasty attempt to boost the mining sector and compensate for declining oil revenues. Experts say that policy appears to be unconstitutional, which has led to the present showdown.

“Mining in protected forests is a violation of Articles 57, 71 and 398 of the constitution: the collective rights of Indigenous peoples, the Rights of Nature, and the right of communities to prior consultation before environmental changes, respectively,” says ecologist Bitty Roy of the University of Oregon, who has conducted research at Los Cedros since 2008.

A Vital Reserve

Los Cedros is a remote, pristine, 17,000-acre cloud forest in northwest Ecuador and one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.

Conservation biologist Mika Peck, of the University of Sussex, describes Los Cedros as “a biodiversity hotspot within a hotspot — and of global importance in terms of conserving our natural history.”

He adds, “the reserve and all it maintains is priceless.”

The case is to be heard next week, October 19.

See the rest of my article at The Revelator