Monthly Archives: November 2017

Telling Tales

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The Białowieża Forest in Poland is still the kind of place, one of the last in Europe, which looks like it is truly straight out of a fairy tale. And when European fairy tales were being written about forests in all their vast complexity, forests still looked like Białowieża Forest.

Several months ago, I wrote about the Polish government’s plans to log large amounts of ancient woodland in the protected Białowieża Forest. In spite of considerable opposition and lawsuits from conservationists, scientists, and European government agencies, the logging went ahead.

Now that the logging has been underway since early summer, the European Union has slapped sanctions on Poland in the amount of €100,000/day (USD 119,000/day) for violating EU law.

The Woodcutter’s Hut (2008)
Artist: Su Blackwell

The government insists on cutting trees against a background falling timber prices, and in spite of the gains in eco-tourism in and around the forest – not to mention the scientific importance of a forest still home to astounding biodiversity. The undertaking certainly raises the question as to how much money is being made on the sales, and by whom. It’s bad enough to watch Poland log Białowieża, Europe’s largest remaining primeval forest and a UNESCO World Heritage site, for old-growth wood and short-term profits.

It’s worse to see Poland’s environment minister, Jan Szyszko, use spurious claims to justify the straightforward gain and greed of the plan. In a similar vein to the Japanese government easily refuted assertion that whaling is still necessary for scientific research while it sells off the resulting whale meat at high prices, Poland’s government claims that the felling of old trees is required to control a spruce bark beetle outbreak.

In the habit of many of today’s governments, any media or scientific coverage that contradicts official plans is simply labelled as fake news. As the truth become more uncomfortable, the lies become more implausible.

The Snow Queen (2008)
Artist: Su Blackwell

The government’s odd argument that the forest isn’t really worth declaring ‘primeval’ because “it was made by local people, and we have facts and books that show that people were there from the beginning,” says less about the forest and more about a spokesperson grasping at a narrative straw.

Fairy tales were written to guide listeners and readers through moral dilemmas, to instruct on dark impulses and their consequences. The issues at the heart of the Polish government’s current tale are the ones we know so well: Greed, and the stories people tell to get what they want.

Last of the Season

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The weather has turned so cold over the past week or so, mostly grey with the mountains getting their first coat of white. But today came up sunny, a nice change. I watched the blue sky while I worked, and finally managed to bundle up and go for a walk at sunset.

I found these hardy blossoms braving the low temperatures.

All photos: PKR

Some of the gardens still have flowers – especially late-blooming roses – but I was only interested in the roadside variety, the ones with no assistance, coming up along the edges, defying asphalt, gravel, cars, and dogs.

They’ve felt the bite of frost every morning for over a week, they’re starting to frizzle, but they’ve still got color and beauty to give before it all goes brown and white for the season.

 

Humble, bowed but not faded, a passing late pollinator might still find joy. And if the pollinators don’t find joy, well, at least this walker did.

Built To Last

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When the house I live in was built, Leonardo da Vinci was a young man with the Mona Lisa still in his future, and Michelangelo was a toddler. The first part of our house, a small fortified tower in rural France, was built in 1478. When the stones were laid for the tower, Christopher Columbus hadn’t yet set sail for the Americas. What would become the dominant Western culture of colonialism, and later, capitalism, hadn’t yet gotten underway.

The tower.
Photo: PKR

When the second part of the house was built, a hundred years later, the world was already a different place.

This pile of stones has been, as far as I know, continuously inhabited through several historical eras, from Louis XIV’s Sun King moment, to the French Revolution, through Industrialization and the two great wars on European soil during the 20th century.

It’s hard to imagine all the history around the world that has taken place in the amount of time this human construction has been a home for generation after generation of people, not to mention the various animals that take up residence in various hidden corners.

This place was built to last, and as long as it’s maintained, there’s no reason it shouldn’t last another couple of centuries, at least.

I wonder sometimes about the people who built the tower back in 1478, and whether they could have even conceived of the world in which their construction now stands. Even if this place were to fall down at some point, which it no doubt will, the stones and the wood will simply become a part of another house, or the landscape.

Over the past 50 years, we’ve been building another kind of construction that lasts. Depending on its exposure to the elements, it can last anywhere from 40 to an estimated 450 years to deteriorate. Maybe even 1000 years.

But it doesn’t provide a home, or shelter, and it’s not meant to be provide utility for more than one or two uses.

The tower stairs.
Photo: PKR

It’s part of a dominant culture that has been well underway since the 1950s, the culture of disposability.

Picture where we are now, and try to imagine the world and our society 450 years from now. Picture that plastic sack, or that plastic bottle, or that plastic wrapping you just threw away. Once it’s not being used, it becomes a part of a cycle of garbage that does little good and a lot of damage.

There’s every likelihood that, like our stone house, those items will last 450 years.

One thing I can predict is that, if we haven’t figured out how to solve our plastic problem, people will still be wondering what possessed us to generate so much plastic for such short-term use.