What would the world be, once bereftFrom Inversnaid, by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
There’s something a bit magic about forests. Real forests, I mean, not plantations, which have creeped me out since I was ten years old and I read an Anthony Horowitz book—about what, I can’t even remember—that featured a pine plantation that trapped you in it, stuck walking an eternal straight line between regimented trees. Ever since then I’ve found plantation forests singularly eerie and I avoid entering them if I can at all avoid it.
I’m talking about real forests. Old growth and huge trees and trunks left to rot where they fall, animals scurrying about in the undergrowth and dappled light. The trees laid out in no discernible pattern other than the random, perfect pattern of nature, growing where their seeds fell, thriving when they find their way into the light. Climbing vines and cool air and a cycle of growth, death, decay, renewal that would feed itself on and on and on, into eternity–if it weren’t for us.
Real forests, where the past walks almost beside you, in step, just over your shoulder and out of sight. Where a tree that you nap beneath could be the same a weary traveller leaned against when it was newly grown, hundreds of years ago. Where you can taste the wild in the air, feel it in the soft forest floor, see it in the gnarled and twisted trunks; a maze of roots protruding from beneath the ground, the damp smell of history.
I read the other day that plantation forests don’t sequester carbon the way natural forests do. Well of course they don’t. Every time we think we’ve got a win-win—”It’s good for the environment and it will grow the economy!”—we seem to end up losing. Every time we try to manipulate the world around us to fit our needs, believing ourselves Kings and Queens of the castle and every single other thing in the world the pitiful dirty rascals, existing only for our use and benefit, we dig the hole a little deeper.
Can we just stop? Please? Stop cutting down the only ancient forests we have left—like the Bialowieza Forest on the border between Poland and Belarus—and can we also start planting new ones? And the new ones, can they be allowed to just be? To not have a purpose? To not be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis, quantifying the health benefits and the monetary value of the environmental improvements and the price of the carbon sequestered, turning it all into another cog in the money-go-round? Can we let them just be random and wild and beautiful? Can we let our forests just be forests?