Elegy Written in a Dying Forest

There is a tree that stands in the forest
That one tree is all forests –
All trees are that one . . .
(John Denver, from Amazon)

elegy-a amazon john denver

The morning air was soft; there was a breeze, light at first but soon one which became gusty. There was also a left-behind dying ember, one that the breeze gathered in its arms, then carried away and deposited a few yards distant. Minutes later, there was, on that spot on the floor of the forest, a tiny fire, one which, within hours, grew to become one of the most massive wildfires in the recorded history of the American Southwest.

It was ignited in those early morning hours of May 29, 2011 and soon spread to ultimately burn across and largely destroy nearly 850 square miles of lush mixed conifer forest which once straddled the rugged hills, valleys, and ridges that topographically define the Apache National Forest in eastern Arizona’s White Mountains. The Wallow Fire — so named because it began a mile or two north of the Mogollon Rim in the Bear Wallow Wilderness Area, just a few scant miles to the east of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation boundary — raged for more than forty days and forty nights before it was declared officially “contained” on July 8, 2011.

It was started by a pair of campers who, for unfathomable reason, failed to completely and totally extinguish their campfire near Bear Wallow Creek before leaving on their morning’s exploratory walkabout. Sadly, they left their two dogs behind in the camp, their leashes tied to a tree; the dogs were undoubtedly among the very first casualties of the wildfire that quickly (and literally) exploded into the surrounding forest, thanks to a wicked southwesterly wind which blew dying campfire embers into the drought-parched surround and then blew those flames steadily northward. For more than a month.

The fire burned for one day less than six weeks, and destroyed almost everything in its path in the process. There still remain, today, here and there, occasional and isolated patches of green and unburned forest which the fire, for reason only it knows, avoided or ‘went around’, but the bottom line remains unchanged: 841 square miles of once-beautiful National Forest are almost completely gone, all thanks to human presence. Humans. Us. We the people. Nothing more, nothing less.

Over the course of most summers during the decade prior to the Wallow fire, we had enjoyed as much time as our situation cared to permit us to enjoy, in that forest. We’d spent days, occasionally even weeks, camped there, alongside its large grassy meadows — ‘cienegas’ in the local parlance — amongst neighbors of elk and deer, of black bears and mountain goats, of wild turkeys and of cougars, and of (recently reintroduced) endangered Mexican Gray Wolves. And wildflowers, of course. It was as close to paradise as anyone might ever dare imagine.

But there were signs of problems. Drought had left its mark. Huge stands of trees, in random areas here and there, were, thanks to massive (drought-induced) bark beetle infestations, each and all dead. And drying. Bark beetles thrive in drought-stricken forests, after all, and the Apache National Forest had become, over the previous decade or two, their perfect habitat. And too, there was the tree density, itself a consequence of extensive logging in the previous century where virtually all of the giant old growth trees had been cut down; in their stead grew their offspring — small, and dense, their vitality no longer curtailed by the deep shade of the old giants. In short and given the right conditions, flammables were everywhere even as the probability of wildfire slowly elevated, year by year, thanks to human-induced climate change and the inevitable consequences implicit therein.

And then it burned. And now, it’s gone. The devastation which remains echoes the words of the poet, Shelley, who described the essence of the (enduring) human dilemma more than two centuries ago, when he wrote:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Below are my own impressions of that which once was, assembled in a few photographs alongside a few words of lament, words which I wrote one afternoon in the summer of 2007 whilst sitting next to a campfire on the edge of Butterfly Cienega, itself (then, no longer) a grassy meadow deep in the Apache National Forest. There were elk and deer grazing nearby, and in the distance one could see — everywhere — skeletons of dead trees; and with every passing year there were more of them. Now they, too, are gone.


Elegy Written in a Dying Forest

elegyThe trees are dying, one by one,
Through fire, disease, and drought-drenched sun;
Where once lived lush green firmament
Now stand dried bones – in dark lament.

elegy-1 the trees are dyingI gazed upon what once had thrived
In climate harsh, where life survived
To offer self in Nature’s Way,
In service — balanced — night and day.

elegy-2 I gazed upon what once had thrivedNo other lives were lesser made
By gathered sun, by filtered shade,
By Spirits who, no germ of greed
Could ever sow, yet still succeed.

elegy-3 no other lives were lesser madeIn other lands, where men are Kings,
Where gluttony in quest of things
Defines deep shallowness of Soul,
Where Nature’s Way is ne’er the goal –

elegy-4 in other lands where men are kings‘Tis there that men are born to die
Not ever having sensed the sigh
Of generous and selfless Grace
Which ere defined this wooded place.

elegy-5 tis there that men are born to dieAs men pretend, and mimic God,
Scant few amongst them find it odd
Or even pause to sense, to see –
God’s image -more- “becomes” a Tree.

elegy-6 gods image more becomes a tree

Dear Mike Huckabee,

You were quoted as saying, “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools.”

I would like to offer the following suggestion and ask for your endorsement:

Let us all agree to post The Lord’s Prayer in each and every public school classroom and office. And, along with that, let us remove all restrictions on gun ownership.

Would you agree that God will then prevent all shootings in all public schools? If not, why not?

You see, I’m still having problems with the notion that God is so vindictive as to allow the murder of 22 little children because of something done by grown-ups a couple of hundred years ago – you know, the separation of church and state thing. A fair reading of your statement is that because we took God out of the classroom, God is seeking His vengance by allowing the mass murder of little children.

Frankly, I am getting a little weary of a God who wipes out entire communities with storms because some folks accept gay marriage as just another expression of God’s love. And I am absolutely appalled at a God who sends a guy to a school house armed to the teeth to kill little kids just because His Word isn’t in the curriculum.

So, Mr. Huckabee, what do you say? Will God prevent mass murders if we adopt Christianity as the official religion of the United States of America? If we become a Christian Nation, can we then get rid of all restrictions on gun ownership and allow people to buy whatever armament they can afford?

And will you, Mr. Huckabee, visit each and every grieving parent, look them in the eye, and tell them that God allowed their little girl or boy to be murdered because public schools don’t teach His Holy Word?

Somehow, I doubt it.

The Watering Hole: Saturday, December 15, 2012 – What Is Right To Work Legislation?

Without unions there would be no middle class. I want you to remember that as we discuss just what is “right to work” legislation. Don’t let the name fool you. It does NOT mean that you have a right to any particular job, or that you can sue your employer just for being fired (whether you deserved it or not). What it really refers to is your right to work at a place without being forced to join a union. Before going into more detail about the concept, here’s a brief (less than 2 minutes) video on the history of unions. For a timeline of major events in union history, see here.

The year 1947 saw one of the most significant changes to union and labor law. Prior to that year, if you wanted to work at a place where the employees belonged to a union, you could be required to join that union and pay dues to it. (And that union could spend those dues on many things with which you may not have agreed.) There were exceptions, such as certain federal jobs (ironically), but closed shops were not unusual. You had to join the union and pay its dues to work there, and if you were no longer in the union (for whatever reason) you could be fired. In the 1947, the very pro-business 80th Congress, when both Houses were controlled by the Republican Party, passed the Labor Management Relations Act (nicknamed the Taft-Hartley Act) over President Harry Truman’s veto. For a “Do Nothing Congress”, they sure did a doozy with that one. They were a very anti-union Congress, and we should be grateful they didn’t pass more legislation.

You often hear that unionized places force people to join the union, but that’s not true (thanks to the Taft-Hartley Act.) State right to work laws force all unionized shops to become “open shops,” meaning employees cannot be forced to join a union. They also have the right to enjoy all the benefits that union workers enjoy. The union might fight for better working conditions for you and your fellow employees (it isn’t always about more pay), but whether or not you join the union you can, by law, enjoy whatever benefits the union wins. If they want, non-union workers can ask the union for help in dealing with their employer, and while they don’t have to pay union dues, they do have to compensate the union for acting on their behalf. But other than that, you can work at any non-federal place that has a union without being forced to join the union.

Now, you’re going to hear a lot of Republicans (like Michigan Governor Rick Snyder) say that right to work laws benefit workers and lead to more pay. Don’t believe it for a second. As union membership declines, so does middle class income. Without unions there would be no middle class.

As of this writing, the following 23 states have some form of right to work laws: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan(!), Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming. The latest addition to that list is Michigan. Nobody campaigned on busting unions in Michigan, even the governor. Why not? Because if they did, they would have lost control of the state government. (You can also thank some heavily gerrymandered districts for that. More people voted for Democrats than for Republicans, but because of gerrymandered districts, more Republicans were sent to the next Congress than Democrats.)

Ask any union member about right to work laws and they’ll tell you they should be called “Right to Work For Less” laws, because that is the ultimate effect of those laws. When workers enjoy the right to bargain collectively, everybody benefits, including the business owners. Again, it isn’t just about fair pay though that is often at issue, it’s about all working conditions. Unions, by fighting for higher standards for workers, businesses, families, the environment, and public health and safety, have helped to build the middle class and make sure the economy works for everyone. Are you eligible for overtime pay for working more than 40 hours? You can thank unions for that. Do you get paid sick days? Thank unions again. Is your work place safe? It probably wouldn’t be without unions.

Interestingly enough, both sides see this as a “Freedom of Assembly” issue. The pro-union side sees it as the right to assemble with those with whom you do want to assemble, and the anti-union side sees it as the right to not have to assemble with those with whom you don’t want to assemble. In other words, the pro-union side sees it as the freedom of assembly, and the anti-union side sees it as the freedom from assembly.

Without unions, if you weren’t a member of the very, very wealthy elite (and if you’re reading this blog, you probably aren’t, but I thank you for being here), then you would be among the very poor. It would just be the very few rich and the very many poor. If Republicans had their way, there would be no unions at all. The only way to stop them is to vote them out of office. But that will be difficult because they’ve done their best to rig the elections so that fewer people can vote who would vote against them. It is a strategy without honor, but so is the Republican Party. While the year 2020 is a long way off, it will be a very, very, very important year for elections. That is the year the next census is conducted, and as a result of that census, voting districts will be redrawn. If Republicans manage to win more seats around the country (and I’m not just talking about Congress, I’m talking about state legislatures, too), they will put the final nails in the coffin of Democracy. They will rig any and all elections so that they can never be voted out of power. We cannot let that happen, and we don’t have to wait until then. Start voting them out of office now. Make sure you are registered to vote and VOTE! And whatever you do, do not vote for Republicans. They lie. All the time.

[This post originally appeared on Pick Wayne’s Brain and has been slightly modified.]