Forest Reverence

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“A grove of giant redwoods or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great or beautiful cathedral.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Tree Cathedral, a living installation in Bergamo, Italy. The foundation was laid in 2001, and following Mauri's death in 2009, the Cattedrale Vegetale has been completed as a monument to his work and life. Image:  Virtual Sacred Space

Tree Cathedral, a living installation by Giuliano Mauri in Bergamo, Italy. The foundation was laid in 2001, and following Mauri’s death in 2009, the Cattedrale Vegetale has been completed as a monument to his work and life.
Image: Virtual Sacred Space

Through history, private family ownership of vast land tracts has had both merits and drawbacks.

When it comes to forests in the United States, almost 60% is under private ownership, 766 million acres of land. For more than half of that land, the average age of the owner is 62.5.

What this means, according to a 2014 Associated Press article, is that as owners pass their land on to younger generations, the land tends to get divided, sold, parcelled into smaller lots and developed in ways that don’t necessarily reflect best forest management or maintain a working forest.

Image: Santino/Flckr

The Tree Cathedral is made of 42 different columns that form five aisles. The columns incorporate 1,800 spruce trunks and 600 chestnut tree branches woven together with 6,000+ meters of hazelnut twigs. Nails, string, and local traditional methods for intertwining and weaving were utilized in order to secure the columns around the trees. Text/Image: EarthPorm/ Santino/Flckr

One of the issues faced by private owners who have worked to protect woodlands is to convey their conservationist commitment to younger, more urbanized generations.

It’s one thing to be deeply affected by forests and enjoy woodland hikes; it’s another altogether to be a private landowner responsible for a long-term forest management plan that encompasses unborn future generations.

As the hornbeam trees within the columns grow and mature, the original support structures will age and fall away, leaving a small forest in the shape of a cathedral. Image: Arte Sella

As the hornbeam trees within the columns grow and mature, the original support structures will age and fall away, leaving a small forest in the shape of a cathedral.
Image: Arte Sella

There are now organizations that offer support to families in woodland legacy planning – first and foremost, projects like Oregon State University’s Ties to the Land help families talk to one another about their land priorities.

I assume that Giuliano Mauri’s Tree Cathedral, shown in the images here, was planned (at least in part) to remind visitors that a forest is a place of reverence. It is installed in the Italian Arte Selle sculpture park of earth art and natural architecture.

With commitment and communication, some families have done a phenomenal job of protecting forests over decades and even centuries.

It’s a little unnerving to think of the majority of any nation’s woodlands being at the mercy of uninterested successors, because once a natural forest cathedral, or even a forest chapel, has been parcelled and developed, it is changed forever.

Experiencing the forest as a sacred space shouldn’t be something that only happens in an art installation.

Image: Aldo Fedele (left) / Arte Sella (right)

Image: Aldo Fedele (left) / Arte Sella (right)

 

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