ashes to ashes
Graham R. Cooper
and dust to dust. I was raking up sawdust earlier in the week and reflecting on the extent to which I deal in dead animals, dead plants, and dead and deadly manmade things. Then a couple of screech owls started calling to each other in the gully, chastising me for not giving more recognition to the living. I forget, at times, my place. My place in the scheme of things.
Actions speak louder than words. I act like someone who has been given dominion over animal and plant kingdoms. Like I’m from the one species that is special, and that I am prepared to use and abuse what man has created to prove it over and over again.
I speak like someone who believes, like that pioneer of the conservation movement, Aldo Leopold, “that men are only fellow-voyagers with other creatures in the odyssey of evolution”. And I agree with Leopold when he states “that a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.”* Like I’m not from a ‘special’ species after all, and that I don’t use what man has created to prove otherwise.
How on earth does raking up sawdust relate to all that? You may well ask!
Because my thoughts mirrored my acts. The symbolism swirling around a man with a chainsaw cannot be overestimated. It’s vested in the power modern man thinks he has over the natural world. Elements are there as I make my somewhat modest contribution: destroying trees, burning funeral pyres of slash, cutting up dead trunks, and raking up the lifeless sawdust that the machine spews out.
The symbolism swirling around a woman with a chainsaw cannot be overestimated either. I’m thinking of Sue Hubbell in particular. Her book, A Country Year, is one of my all-time favourites. The power of the feminine element, and her sure sense of her place in the scheme of things, imbues the following in such a way that a man, such as myself, could benefit immensely from striving to emulate it in his own dealings with the wider world:
Sap gone, a standing dead tree like the one I cut today will make good firewood, and so invites cutting. But if I leave it, it will make a home for woodpeckers, and later for flying squirrels and screech owls. Where I leave a brush pile of top branches, rabbits make a home. If I leave a fallen tree, others will benefit: ants, spiders, beetles and wood roaches will use it for shelter and food, and lovely delicate fungi will grow out of it before it mixes with leaf mold to become a part of a new layer of soil.
One person with a chainsaw makes a difference in the woods, and by making a difference becomes part of the woodland cycle, a part of the abstraction that is the forest community.
from A Country Year by Sue Hubbell
*from A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
That’s all from Little Owl Gully till next Monday. This coming week I’ll attempt to instill some life into that heap of sawdust – I’ll get the hens on the job!
Thanks for your company. Bye for now.