My thoughts about culture and our present conditions. As Dianne Moore says in Learning to Love a Wounded World, "This requires a willingness to feel everything…. the horror and the beauty of what is here…. the fear and the Love.”

Eco Sanity

Systems thinking, CO2, Methane, Permafrost and Craters

Mystery as HUGE craters emerge in Russia: Scientist claims they are major warning to world


MYSTERIOUS giant craters 50ft wide have begun appearing in northern Siberia as temperatures rise in the region.


I’ve been trying to keep track of the science on these crater events since they first got noticed back in 2014. I think the key points in the article are in synch with the the common observations that have been coming out since the first crater was discovered. The theme is, the tundra is melting. The melting releases both CO2 and methane. This has happened before. Yes, true, but the last time the geologic record tells us it happened was 130,000 years ago, and that permafrost melting happened over thousands of years. This one is happening over decades. While the actual sinkholes remain an unresolved phenomenon by the strict, objective standards of science, the melting of the permafrost has become much more thoroughly understood.

If you see the world from a systems view, which is the view I learned while studying ecology back in the early 70s, then you can begin to imagine the entire earth as a complete system. There are also systems within systems to take into account. Systems within systems are connected and with that connection you get feedback loops. What’s happening with the melting of the permafrost is part of a positive feedback loop process.

Positive feed backs can accelerate effects in a geometric fashion. Thus a linear projection of global warming can quickly become a geometric effect with an acceleration of the warming. That’s ecology and systems thinking 101. One of the first principles needed to be learned to understand systems thinking.

If you don’t teach system thinking in the education system, people don’t even get a chance learn what it is and therefore can’t make a deeper, richer sense of this kind of interconnecting, narrative enhancing information. IF people can’t put together an interconnecting narrative (why do we love storytelling and especially mythological storytelling? I’d suggest because it helps to build a sense of wholeness in our understanding of the world), their understanding of scattered bits of information presented in various ways through media remains peripheral, isolated, and fails to become part of a general narrative about what’s going on in the world.

I’m feeling very safe in saying people like Donald Trump never were exposed to this way of thinking, or if they were, they were successful in ignoring them. Why do I feel safe with this view? Because I brought it to my job as a systems analyst and strategic planning consultant, which I sold as a skill to corporations like the ones run by Trump and other CEOs. Their “art” of making “deals” has no relationship to this level of systemic understanding of the entire world. Their skills are isolated events that are considered successes in the moment, but no consideration is given to the long term systemic feed backs they may cause. They relied on nerds like me to pay attention to that, and in their corporate reality, in their world view of making the deal and solving the short term problems of keeping their corporations profitable to keep their stockholders happy, and therefore being a success, we were mostly in the way. At best they might breeze through the executive summary of a 250 page systems analysis and strategic plan we labored to put together for them.

Unfortunately these are the people making decisions about what goes into causing some of these positive feedback loops. It’s like, if your body had a fever, and your doctor told you what infection was causing that fever, and what you were doing to enhance that infection, rather than inhibit it, and you blissfully ignored that advice and went right on with your addictive behavior that was actually the cause, your body may not, in fact, probably would not be able to compensate for the infection, and the chance of it killing you would accelerate as the infection sets in and spreads all through the body.

Apocalypse soon?

As I write I am thinking of one of my first in-depth population studies — I chose to study lemmings — when I was studying ecology in one of the state universities responsible for instigating the Green Revolution (a big ten Michigan school) around 1972 when Limits to Growth came out, and, given what I was discovering in my studies, and given that some of the big names responsible then for the Green Revolution were coming to our classes, giving guest lectures, telling us the Green Revolution had already been wiped out then, I took the lessons to heart.  The various computer modeled predictions then were somewhat grim, but among the warnings was one scenario suggesting that if civilization started then, it could save itself the worst of the collapse calamities, even create a decent and sustainably stable human world on this planet before the worst case scenario came inevitably about.

It appeared, for a few years at least, and nearly all the way through the Carter Administration, that the rest of the nation was heeding the warnings as well.  Public schools were quickly instituting environmental education programs to begin developing a crop of aware citizens who could pitch in intelligently to deal with the real threat the Limits to Growth computer modelings projected.

Then along came the corporate backlash to big bad government regulations along with a coordinated backlash against the influential bad seed of liberal public education programs, and we the people got their front man, the now “heroic” presidential figure, Ronald Reagan, and with his smiling face came a systematic propaganda program instigated through corporate owned media (otherwise known with true Orwellian flair as “liberal” media) that puts Wilson’s Creel Committee, perhaps even Goebbel’s work in bringing frenzy to Nazi Germany, at the primary school level of propaganda.

Shrink government  — as a regulating force at least, maybe not the military, no not that — take the chains off those Sampsons, our free market entrepreneurial business heroes, and let them make America wealthy (again, as if America hadn’t just gone through its most extensive height of overall wealth achievement in its history following WWII). That was the corporate cry to renewed patriotic glory that their front man espoused.  And enough of the masses loved it.

So we are suffering its legacy today, though everyone is so confused we can no longer explain in simple terms what lies at the source of that suffering.  Hoards of conservative minions, once middle class workers, many once union workers and democrats, are now programmed to despise anything liberal, which, it turns out, includes anything democratic, which most now think of as socialism.  And, of course, environmentalism was carefully crafted early on — thanks to the threat of the newly devised and signed into law by Nixon EPA — to be a liberal, even democratic idea.  So if you are a conservative minion, you’ve been programmed through Rush Limbaugh, et al, to automatically reject anything environmental.

It might have just been another round of relatively harmless and humorous human folly that historians could look back upon with some laughs, except for the actual devastating effect it’s had and continues to exponentially have on the very basis of life on our mutually shared and fragile layer of living biosphere of this lonely living planet floating in an otherwise starkly cold and biologically uninviting universe.

Since then, both Democrat and Republican politicians, spear headed by either party’s Chief Executive in the Oval Office, have gone back to the economic addiction of human progress as an infinite growth global economy model, along with a general attitude of screw the environment as anything other than merely humanity’s God given resource gift and handy garbage dump.  No one can hope to be elected to the presidency in 2012 without having some plan to grow the economy, to mine more resources (and, ahem, destroy more of the environment through fracking, tapping oil under the Arctic Ocean as the ice recedes, and squeezing oil from shale) whether it’s by the Keynesian style or the Austrian free market theories.

Unfortunately that forty-some year old computer program that predicted a collapse of socioeconomic order and massive drop in human population in the 21st Century appears to be dead on target.  Not so much theory, like economics, but fact. Researchers at MIT have again revisited the program, updated the data, guaged the tragectory predicted, and now they think we may already be running in midair air, just like Wiley E. Coyote when he runs off a cliff chasing the Road Runner.  We are about to drop.

No, the following article does not come from one of those supermarket check out stand rags that tell you about the latest UFO findings, nor is it one of the latest conspiracy theories from  It comes from Scientific American.

Apocalypse Soon: Has Civilization Passed the Environmental Point of No Return? May 23, 2012

Dennis Meadows, professor emeritus of systems policy at the University of New Hampshire who headed the original M.I.T. team and revisited World3 in 1994 and 2004, has an even darker view. The 1970s program had yielded a variety of scenarios, in some of which humanity manages to control production and population to live within planetary limits (described as Limits to Growth). Meadows contends that the model’s sustainable pathways are no longer within reach because humanity has failed to act accordingly.

Instead, the latest global data are tracking one of the most alarming scenarios, in which these variables increase steadily to reach a peak and then suddenly drop in a process called collapse. In fact, “I see collapse happening already,” he says. “Food per capita is going down, energy is becoming more scarce, groundwater is being depleted.” Most worrisome, Randers notes, greenhouse gases are being emitted twice as fast as oceans and forests can absorb them. Whereas in 1972 humans were using 85 percent of the regenerative capacity of the biosphere to support economic activities such as growing food, producing goods and assimilating pollutants, the figure is now at 150 percent—and growing.

Reunion in the wild

Don’t much care for the Whitney Houston touch, but this speaks for itself:


And I can’t explain this: while I was watching this the first time, Jacques came in the room and started working real hard to get my attention, pretty soon he was jumping all over me just like the lion was doing at the same time in the video.  I figure it has to be something he was reading from me.

Ideological Barriers to Sustainability

While we watch helplessly as Obama selects advisers and heads of key bureaucracies from the status quo elite, with the same ideologies that have brought us to this potential brink of global economic and environmental collapse, some of us have been having discussions about what we can do outside the structure of government to make ourselves ready for the possibility of the worst of times to come.  This effort to find alternatives in our immediate lives, options we can employ ourselves, is what some are chiding as an example of the "fractured left" typically not pooling together like the conservatives do, and going along with the program like good team mates.  

A few of us recognize the hidden values in that chiding that leads the crowd to aggregate into various forms of government that have been quite problematic in the past.  "Fasces" for instance, is a Latin word that means a bundle of rods, which, when bundled together, is much harder to break than any individual rod.  This word association was apparently one of Musselini’s gift to the world as a governmental description.  If one is worried about breaking, fascism is supposedly an answer. But here I think we are dealing with other problems, problems that in the end can be the demise of a bundle of sticks as well.

Aside from the simple fact that I don’t consider myself "right" "left" or otherwise, I consider this sort of nonsense to be little more than a retrospective analysis based on the notion of competition between the Republicans and Democrats for seats of power.  The illusion we are supposed to be persuaded by is the notion of democracy.  But what we have is not democracy.  Not the participatory form at least.  Ours is an election and legitimization of an elite who, once elected after a big carnival ritual where much money is spent, much attention is played to the personalities involved, we then sit back and allow this elite to manage, much like upper management manages a corporation.  So, as usual, I ignore it.  We have some serious issues to deal with now, and partisan competition is not at the top of my list of concerns.

In one of those discussions where someone naively sugguested we could be on the verge of a massive reindustrialization of the US, thanks to these brainy elites, many from the Clinton era, to compensate for the loss of productivity resulting from the last thirty years or so of neoliberal policies that led to the international corporate bill of rights like NAFTA and GATT these very elites designed, I was recently asked the following question:

"I’ve written elsewhere about my skepticism concerning "sustainable
development," which I consider to be a euphemism for "status quo." I
have also expressed the opinion that, to raise up the poor in the world
would require considerable sacrifices in the living standards of the
rich, sacrifices that are politically unlikely in my view.

For these and other reasons I am pessimistic about humanity’s future.
Perhaps you or others on this list can offer reasons for me to be

I consider "sustainable development" to be an oxymoron.  To me, the notion of development connects with a network of meanings that imply "progress" or an enlightenment version of cultural evolution where it’s seen rationally progressing in an ever improving direction.  However, also rationally, thanks to the sciences that this evolution created, we see it has become one which is now quite clearly putting the entire human race at risk.  The risk arises because development, or progress, now involves the ever expanding rational homo centric economic forces that are the very definition of improved conditions for humans on the planet of these words.  One of the primary reasons for what has become the potential demise of societies based on this strategy is underlying economic logic built into this version of development, which is the very capitalist based economic ideology that inherently in its fundamental goal ignores the laws of ecology.  In those laws we can find, through our science, the rules of succession, where at the higher levels of succession we find that a balanced (and therefore sustainable) eco system is by its nature a very complex and biologically diverse one.  In diversity lies stability as long as some catastrophic force does not enter the picture.  A force like a volcano, or a meteor.

Rather than attempting to achieve a complex and balanced state of biodiversity in their environments, humans are using their technology, driven by a recent discovery of a very potent source of stored energy, fossil fuels, to attack biodiversity and thereby lower the levels succession of ecosystems all over the planet.  What human "genius" has discovered is how to use energy-driven technology to supplant biodiversity.  The sum total of industrial agriculture is based on that fundamental trade off.  Agriculture itself is therefore an energy intensive process of maintaining a monoculture in a constant battle against the very obvious and definable forces of nature that want to complexify any given biologically inhabitable area of the planet.  Agriculture creates eco zones whereby the biomass is primarily designed to feed the human and none other but those human’s choose.  Any of the other species that threaten that are considered "pests" that must thereby be eradicated.  In the sense of competition, then, humans are outcompeting other species.  Cancers do that for awhile… until they kill their host.  Then the cancer also dies. 

The result of this human cancer-like process is now globally a tremendous loss of biodiversity, seriously threatening effects on life biological processes that are key elements in sustaining much life, including the lives human beings.  But that’s been, in terms of human life spans over the past hundred and fifty years, a long term effect that has been able to be put off thanks to the discovery of this potent energy source and the development of key technologies based on it.  What a few of us have always recognized, and what occasionally comes out at broader levels of understanding in periods where the energy supply becomes strained, is this is not an infinite game the human species is playing.  It’s a finite game with an ending somewhere, potentially a catostrophic one if not recognized and ameliorated.  Since I am one of those Cassandra’s, what I’m concerned about is achieving a balance of life for humans and the environment on the planet as a whole.  Admittedly that’s a very complex problem, and one we can probably not discuss without disconnecting from many of the terms and concepts we take for granted as defining the imagined world we share conceptually in many ways. 

However, putting that problem aside for the moment, and to answer the question, my optimism about people comes after actually observing them disconnect from ideologies and start
looking practically at what they can do for themselves. It’s a daunting
task to see through one’s own self created illusions, and generally the first reaction will be some form of denial, with a refusal to face the necessity of abandoning a suicidal and socially lethal lifestyle.  But I do see people doing it.  It therefore can be done.

Another person notes the problem of addressing this notion of sustainability in the present context:

"Our cultural values are shaped in great part by the economic
functioning of our society…by the way we’ve structured economic

If you follow out all the implications in that statement in detail you
can come up with something very similar to Jacques Ellul’s critique of
a modern culture as a critique de la société technicienne et de la modernité, Historien et Sociologue
or for short, technological tyranny and its threat to human freedom,
which is embedded in his "sociological propaganda" descriptions. An
admitted difficulty with that term is translating his meaning of propaganda. So I go
to enculturation, a more generic term, and one that has a rich meaning in a field I have studied, cultural anthropology.

Again, rather than dwelling on the global problems beyond our scope of
action — I’m not suggesting ignoring them — look at what people are
doing with their awareness of global issues. And once more I recommend
exploring such networking efforts as "Transition Towns" and
other rhizome-like communities.

Here’s what some are doing, not just in the US, but elsewhere in the global economic empire.

Transition Towns… embody creative responses by ordinary people

networking site for those interested in exploring and/or implementing
the Transition model in their community. This site is being created
through grassroots participation, and is continually evolving. It is a
spontaneously arising effort to connect ‘transitioners’ with each other
and to encourage and support the development of local Transition

Transition model

Search: Transition Towns

People are finding ways to de-institutionalize themselves, and those
ways must go beyond mere concepts or ideas, or one remains trapped in
the ontology of institutional existence.

One must start with at least a fundamental curiosity of how to get out
of this trap. Of course, the notion that it’s a trap must emerge
somewhere in the consciousness. I suggest the sense of depression about
the future of humanity as a whole is a sign that one senses entrapment
of some king. Look into it rather than find the nearest escape.

In real life, when people aren’t huddled in their suburban rat traps,
watching the spoon fed culture of techno-propaganda of MSM, they can
rediscover their humanity in interactions with each other. I’ve
discovered that permaculture or other types of gardening groups can be
a very grounding place to start. People who love to see things grow,
also tend to be able to love other things, like each other. It was the
permaculture groups that moved on to developing the transition town
network as they began to imagine the effects of Peak Oil on modern
industrial agriculture.

Human beings’ unique survival capability is that they are actually very
good a copying from each other any invented forms that work. Often they will apply
them in new and creative ways. When humans are pro active instead of
managed within institutions for the purpose of any given institution, I
believe they can do marvelous things.

Civilization, Complexity and Collapse

Joseph Tainter did a classic study of collapse in his Collapse of Complex Societies.
All collapse explanations being written reference it and must account
for his powerful and elegant model of collapse if they want to advance
any theory at all:

Political disintegration is a persistent feature of world history. The
Collapse of Complex Societies, though written by an archaeologist, will
therefore strike a chord throughout the social sciences. Any
explanation of societal collapse carries lessons not just for the study
of ancient societies, but for the members of all such societies in both
the present and future. Dr. Tainter describes nearly two dozen cases of
collapse and reviews more than 2000 years of explanations. He then
develops a new and far-reaching theory that accounts for collapse among
diverse kinds of societies, evaluating his model and clarifying the
processes of disintegration by detailed studies of the Roman, Mayan and
Chacoan collapses.

He provides a short but concise summary of his collapse model in this 1996 essay:

central thesis of collapse features the theory that all social
organization is an effort to solve the problem of survival, and
whatever the solution derived, that solution faces problems of
sustainablility in the face of whatever resources it uses as part of
its solution. Hierarchy is a basic meme that evolved from the first
efforts to manage nature with agriculture. Hierarchy has the basic
features we find in all institutions in all complex societies.
Hierarchy is a basic feature in problem solving and by its very problem
solving nature it becomes a complexity in society. But the complexity
is dynamic, because the solutions a hierarchy comes to usually involve
the very creation of more problems to be solved.

The end result
of problem solving for any societal system as a whole is called a
"margin of return." Another formula for margin of return might be
expressed as "Energy Returned on Energy Invested" or "EROEI" because
all life forms depend on energy transformation, so the root force of
problem solving is always the need to support human life with energy.
There must be a positive margin of return on the energy expended.

Very briefly what happens is this, when humans first employed their basic memes of complexity to solve their survival problems, with the cultivation of plants about 12,000 years ago (note: cultivation is the root for the term culture), the early results of this experiment showed great promise.  Hierarchy produced high margins of return on energy invested.  But what did not get recognized at first was the costs that resulted in other problems that needed to be solved, and so more hierarchy with corresponding specialization was invented and more complexity resulted, and after awhile the complexity begins to absorb more energy while giving less in return.  That, is the short version explanation to explain the upward, leveling and then downward curve on the graph below.  At some point, the energy cost of complexity exceeds the energy benefits, and you get collapse. 

It’s a fairly simple concept — if difficult to detail with all the parts fully explained.  For a parallel comparison, imagine a corporation that begins to grow, and it becomes more complex in what it produces, where, and how.  The result is it needs to expand it’s management systems to better direct it’s production.  At some point if it doesn’t solve it’s increasing efficiency problems, the management begins to become so top heavy, it can cost more than the overworked, increasingly pressured to work for less workers can produce and so the company starts losing money, and goes bankrupt.  Bankruptcy and collapse, same basic concept.

oil is also a measurement of this concept. Peak oil shows the same
graph curve, rising then falling: as the easy to harvest oil is removed
and it becomes less accessible and requires more energy expended to
harvest the oil, the graph falls from a peak to show a decreasing
margin of return. In other words, after the peak of margin energy
return is reached, the margin reduces, and the cost/benefits to society
increase/reduce. If societies depending on this source of energy do not
adjust, they face imminent collapse. That’s the theory.

One of
the central arguments we are facing in the world is between the free
marketeers and the social managers. The free marketeers believe the
market contains the magic formula for adjustment, the social managers
believe humans need to plan.

Here is a kind of simple, graphic
visual image of collapse using the measurement involving margin of
return for level of complexity in societies that collapse:

Explanation of the graph from the above linked essay:

The development of complexity is thus an economic process: complexity levies costs and yields benefits. It is an investment, and it gives a variable return. Complexity can be both beneficial and detrimental. Its destructive potential is evident in historical cases where increased expenditures on socioeconomic complexity reached diminishing returns, and ultimately, in some instances, negative returns (Tainter 1988, 1994b). This outcome emerges from the normal economic process: simple, inexpensive solutions are adopted before more complex, expensive ones. Thus, as human populations have increased, hunting and gathering has given way to increasingly intensive agriculture, and to industrialized food production that consumes more energy than it produces (Clark and Haswell 1966; Cohen 1977; Hall et al. 1992). Minerals and energy production move consistently from easily accessible, inexpensively exploited reserves to ones that are costlier to find, extract, process, and distribute. Socioeconomic organization has evolved from egalitarian reciprocity, short-term leadership, and generalized roles to complex hierarchies with increasing specialization.

The graph in Figure 4.1 is based on these arguments. As a society increases in complexity, it expands investment in such things as resource production, information processing, administration, and defense. The benefit/cost curve for these expenditures may at first increase favorably, as the most simple, general, and inexpensive solutions are adopted (a phase not shown on this chart). Yet as a society encounters new stresses, and inexpensive solutions no longer suffice, its evolution proceeds in a more costly direction. Ultimately a growing society reaches a point where continued investment in complexity yields higher returns, but at a declining marginal rate. At a point such as B1, C1 on this chart a society has entered the phase where it starts to become vulnerable to collapse. [2]

Two things make a society liable to collapse at this point. First new emergencies impinge on a people who are investing in a strategy that yields less and less marginal return. As such a society becomes economically weakened it has fewer reserves with which to counter major adversities. A crisis that the society might have survived in its earlier days now becomes insurmountable.

Second, diminishing returns make complexity less attractive and breed disaffection. As taxes and other costs rise and there are fewer benefits at the local level, more and more people are attracted by the idea of being independent. The society "decomposes" as people pursue their immediate needs rather than the long-term goals of the leadership. [3]

As such a society evolves along the marginal return curve beyond B2, C2, it crosses a continuum of points, such as B1, C3, where costs are increasing, but the benefits have actually declined to those previously available at a lower level of complexity. This is a realm of negative returns to investment in complexity. A society at such a point would find that, upon collapsing, its return on investment in complexity would noticeably rise. A society in this condition is extremely vulnerable to collapse.

This argument, developed and tested to explain why societies collapse (Tainter 1988), is also an account of historical trends in the economics of problem solving. The history of cultural complexity is the history of human problem solving. In many sectors of investment, such as resource production, technology, competition, political organization, and research, complexity is increased by a continual need to solve problems. As easier solutions are exhausted, problem solving moves inexorably to greater complexity, higher costs, and diminishing returns. This need not lead to collapse, but it is important to understand the conditions under which it might. To illustrate these conditions it is useful to review three examples of increasing complexity and costliness in problem solving: the collapse of the Roman Empire, the development of industrialism, and trends in contemporary science.

Another study of collapse in progress:





Is this how we have to end?


The question I keep asking is, what role do we play in this? What is our voice? Can we hope to have leaders that can solve it, or should we do what most citizens did when the Roman superstructure began to collapse, they turned to their own immediate environment and back to their solar based solutions.

A friend of mine is turning to such solutions. She’s got involved in a network of rhizome like communities that are springing up called Transitional Towns. My own instincts go in that direction. But what ever we choose we must still keep in mind we are all part of a system, and as Gregory Bateson once said:

To want control is the pathology! Not that the person can get control, because of course you never do… Man is only a part of larger systems, and the part can never control the whole…

Elk at Fallen Ancient

Part of my personal ecotherapy practice is to live here in Southwestern Washington State, in the Willapa Watershed.  It is a choice I have made and I’ve made it because at times this land and what the humans are doing to it makes me mourn with a deep, throat constricted sadness for my earth and all the living things upon it.  And that is a truth I do not want to deny or forget.

Willapa is the Native People’s word for weeping forest, which was — before Western civilization came to these lands — a description of the rich and verdant splendor of a unique natural environment that evolved with the cool, rainy climate that characterizes the Pacific Northwest coast.

It was once a land where the ancient climax forests softly wept Willapa tears of joy for the beauty bestowed upon the land by gentle rains.

Now Willapa tears fall from the weak and ever stunted relatives weeping for the loss of strong and towering ancients, chopped and milled into the houses of the Westerners that came, swarming, spreading their farms and cities over the land, leaving little room for the many plants and creatures that once all together made their living home upon it, growing, integrated and complete, with only the added energy of sunlight.  The young ones weep as they live out their now relatively brief lives of forty or so years, reduced to crop like stands of scrawny stems, merely harvestable raw material for lumber and paper pulp to keep the farms and cities growing.

I spend a lot of time out in these young forests.  Forests that had become these extensive timber company tree farms long before I ever chose to come to this land, tree crops grown on lands purchased from the railroads for mere pennies an acre.  The railroads themselves were granted much of the land by some government policymakers who deemed it proper to use land itself to barter with these private companies in order to “encourage” railroad barons to build their iron horse roads in Washington State.  This all took place back in the eighteen hundreds when nation “building” was considered the natural purpose of  America’s exceptionally endowed Manifest Destiny, and the people who were here before, not using it properly, were simply displaced, as was determined to be their ignominious but sadly necessary part of that great Destiny.

All of this makes perfect sense if you’ll just read the right books.

If I don’t stop to think about what once was, and if I pay immediate attention to what is here now, it’s true that I can see there is much beauty to be found all around me.  These forest crop lands are benevolently opened to me by these timber company owners, and to any and all other respectful visitors for hunting and exploring, almost as if they still were our public lands.  So really, what have we lost? I’ve heard some of my neighbors ask from time to time.

I’m not the answer man, I tell them.

So the beauty of all this for me is I can simply walk out my back door with my dog Jacques, and we scale a steep hillside, for about five hundred feet, and then we are set free to walk for miles on deer trails and logging roads, whichever I may happen to prefer for that walk.  And so I go out amongst the young trees and share their joy as they grow, and admire the beauty they have, for as briefly as they will have it.  And I’ve learned how to say good bye from time to time.

One day I’d ridden my mountain bike about ten miles along a logging road I hadn’t explored before, with Jacques running along with me, exploring the realms of scent and sounds that I can only imagine.   When, not too surprisingly, I came across what looked to be about a five year past clearcut.  The timber company had replanted and a stand of baby douglas fur was growing through the graying stumps and debris.  Most of the new trees stood no taller than four feet.

Jacques was sniffing intently along the edge of the road just up ahead, where an embankment rose up into the clearcut.  Above him I could see a huge stump, still dwarfing the baby trees that were growing nearby.  Contrasting with this patch of clearcut, across the road to my right, a stand of dark and serene forest fell away, sloping downward from the logging road, with trees that looked to be near harvestable size.  I wondered how soon the trucks would be rumbling up the road to carry them off to a mill.

As I pedaled slowly up, I was awed by the size of the stump, so I stopped below it, straddled my bike and looked up for a bit.  Then I got off and laid the bike on its side in the shallow ditch next to the road and climbed up to this immense, moss covered, grayed and slightly rotting stump, which still had huge roots going down and into the hillside — though I imagined they must be rotted under the surface, and one day the stump would come tumbling down.  However, what was left was clearly enough to keep it in place for now.

I noticed a couple of handy notches had been carved in its side so the loggers could put in boards and stand above the ground in the way I’d seen in old pictures of them back when two men would work a huge two man saw together to fell a tree, back before the invention of gasoline powered chain saws, the first of which I recall dates around 1905. That gave me some sense of how long ago the tree had been felled.

Stepping into the notch, I climbed up and stood on the stump and just looked at its expanse, trying to see the rings in the weathered surface, hoping I could count them. The tree that had once grown from that stump was lying, stretching out from it, like a giant’s carcass, cut into sections, each maybe forty feet in length. I figure it had to have  been lying there since near the turn of the Twentieth Century, given those notches. The sections were dark and weathered, mossy on the shaded northern side, and somewhat decayed but amazingly still pretty much intact.

Then I thought to lay down on the stump to measure it, and it was at least another two feet in diameter larger than my length, so its diameter must have been at least eight feet.

I stepped across to the first section of trunk, lying so quiet and still on its side for all those years, through maybe two stands of timber, all harvested and gone, turned to lumber and now in houses somewhere, who knows where, and began walking down towards the other. Had it not been cut, it would probably still be standing, huge, deeply rooted, thick in girth, 300 or so feet high, no doubt, and the tragedy of that now seemingly senseless act of felling such an ancient, living being, cutting it in sections and then just leaving it there, filled me with sorrow and brought tears to my eyes.

Then I thought to get out my camera from my pack and I began taking pictures.

I walked along the sections of the ancient carcass, jumping from one to the next.  And then as I lined up along the last one, as I was looking through the lens, suddenly I realized I was looking at the face of an elk off the end of that last section of trunk, and the elk was calmly looking directly back at me. I slowly allowed the camera lower from my face, and the elk and I just looked at each other, eyes to eyes, and I could see the animal was at peace.  It looked to it’s right, and then I looked around, moving my head carefully so as not to make any sudden gestures to startle this animal, and I came to a realization I was in the middle of an entire herd of elk. Most of them were lying down, resting calmly, a few looking towards me. I turned to look for my dog and he was right behind me on top of the ancient fallen giant, looking at all the elk too. We were all just looking at each other, elk, dog and human. It felt like we were all somehow connected and inseparable and welded into that moment by a force none of us knew how to break, or even wanted to.

I turned slowly and Jacques and I went back down the sections of carcass to the stump, then back down to my bike.  We left the herd peacefully in their field of tiny trees, where much grass still grew for them, and would for a few more years until the trees got large enough to block out the light and make a forest canopy of their own, one that would, if left be, eventually become an ancient old growth forest bed.

Why that tree was never taken out after it was cut down remains a mystery to me, and I’d bet no one is alive to tell me, and probably no story about it was important enough to tell their children. Just another tree cut down, for what ever reason, left behind. A hundred years later, still there, nearly intact. They were just cutting trees, shipping them to California, one got left.

Then there was the time I was coasting down a hill way back on a logging road, and I saw three black Lab puppies running down the road up ahead.  And just as I was wondering what are those little puppies doing way out there all by themselves, they all turned almost at once and scampered off the road and climbed a tree as Jacques went charging past me, for he too was probably wondering what they were doing out there.   …And then I heard all this crashing and crackling in the forest off to my right…

Ren Huntsinger, May 24, 2008