Saturday, 4 April 2009

Seeing the wood and the trees

I’m currently reading Richard Mabey’s Beechcombings, which explores our perceptions of trees, beech in particular. Mabey is fascinated by trees yet also critical of our tendency to sentimentalise them, especially if this involves treating them as vulnerable creatures in need of our protection rather than independent living beings. It’s a tricky balance that makes me think of two recent news stories.

One was in The Guardian last week. David Hockney has been painting a beech-wood through the seasons but having completed summer and winter when he returned to paint spring he found the wood had been felled. I hope I’m allowed to reproduce these lovely paintings and the less attractive photograph:

[All images by David Hockney]

There’s an interesting response to the story here that points out that we in Britain should take part in sustainable timber production rather than importing all our wood. The land will be replanted by 2014.

A good news story was published on the Greenpeace blog this week: after a long and difficult campaign a large area of temperate rainforest in British Columbia has been protected against any logging activity. It’s great to see how effective campaigning can work. Last summer I read a book about this area’s forests by John Vaillant, The Golden Spruce. Vaillant tells the story of Grant Hadwin, a logger turned environmentalist who in an act of protest against the destructive timber industry destroyed an ancient tree held sacred by the local Haida people. Hadwin felled the tree as a signal against tokenistic preservation of particular trees and reserves that he felt actually enabled large-scale industrial clear cuts to continue unchecked. I wonder what he would think of the protection granted to the Great Bear Forest.

 These five views on trees and forestry may appear to look from our current situation in different directions but I think they have a lot in common. These writers, artists, foresters and campaigners are all trying to understand our relations with trees in focussed, attentive ways. Since all of them want us to see trees it would be a real loss if Hockney's spring and autumn paintings cannot be made so I hope he will find a way to paint them.

1 comment: