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Year of forests

forest as communityIn an effort to draw attention to their demise the UN has declared 2011 the year of forests. To illustrate their global importance a litany of facts and statistics are usually quoted, which are intended to demonstrate our dependence on them in terms of their economic importance as a renewable natural resource.

But deep down inside me there is something that irks me about this approach. We talk about forests like we do about 'the environment'. The mental image of a forests is that of a collection of trees, which only become part of our focus once we think about their usefulness. Their 'functions' are recited like a CV: 'they purify the water, seed clouds to produce rain and supply us with raw materials for industry and firewood, as well as, oh yeah, a source of medicines - and recreation.

But forests are so much more than the sum of their utilitarian parts. In fact, we cannot meaningfully consider life on planet earth without considering forests as the primordial source - that is, once water and land had separated and creatures began to evolve outside the oceans. Forests are about community, cooperation and co-evolution not just as a collection of trees, but with other species, including us.

Language describes not reality itself, but the way we think about things - mostly as abstractions. We use terms like 'the environment' and 'the forest' to distance ourselves, as if they existed as something alien or other. But all life is interwoven in a dense fabric of relationships that include interdependent cycles of growth and decay. We serve the forests as they serve us. Destroying them is to destroy ourselves- is to destroy the foundation of life.

For the native people who call forests their home, this is a platitude. They do not distinguish between themselves and the extended forest ecosystem on which their lives depend. Much like the unborn fetus is part of the mother and wholly dependent on her for all its nourishment and existence, so the species that live in the forest are connected biologically, physically and spiritually. It is due to our individualistic, separatist mindset, which imagines the ego as the active force that can impose its will as it pleases on the 'dead matter and objects' that litter the space in which the individual exists - just like a small child might perceive that the universe has been created solely for their enjoyment. We must grow up, beyond this infantile frame of mind and become conscious of the energetic exchange of which we are a part. Instead of users and exploiters, we must become givers and guardians. Forests are more than a collection of trees. They are ecosystems composed of myriad species, from the micro-organisms that live in the soil and help roots absorb its nutrients, to the larger species that feed on and distribute the seeds. There are fungi, grasses and ferns, mosses and epiphytes, and each play their part in the wheel of forest's life. Decay is as important as new growth for its continuation; life and decay are not posed in struggle against one another, but part of the same cycle that generates and re-creates life, constantly.

Yet, razing hundreds of acres to the ground is, for Gaia, the equivalent of removing large parts of skin from the human body. A small patch can regrow, but denuding the earth of its forest, destroys the homeostatic balance, allows pathogens to take over and degradation and necrosis is inevitable - the process of deforestation leading to desertification. How we treat and what we do to 'our environment' is a reflection of our cultural values. If we want to maintain life on earth for future generations we must return to a sense of community that is inclusive of the 'environment'on which our lives depend - and fosters respect and love towards our plant and animal 'brothers and sisters', and our river and forest elders, in a real, personal sense and not just as a utilitarian resource. There is a difference between agri/culture, and exploitation - it is the difference between life and death.

Some inspiration


UN year of Forest Page conservation portal
Logging and indigenous peoples
Forest People org

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