The Elephant Graveyard
Updated: May 12, 2022
I have a couple crazy dogs that demand a morning and evening hike and are extremely spoiled... but I digress. They have nothing to do with the timber industry, but it is our double daily outing that led me to the elephant graveyard. I moved to Oregon because I wanted to be closer to the forest and farther away from pollution. I would walk the forests on the southern coast and would be enamored by the sheer size and density of the tree stands. I didn’t know a lot about the native species and local ecosystems and was simply blown away by seeing so much green everywhere me and the dogs went. We hiked, and I researched. We hiked some more, and I started to learn about the forest from the canopy to the rhizosphere. I read about the millions of mosses, lichens, and fungi living in symbiotic relationships with each other. I started to be able to define a Western Hemlock from a Grand Fir, deciduous from evergreen, natives from invasive species. I could see how a healthy forest worked, all pieces playing an important role in the survival of the system as a whole…
… and then I hiked into my first tree plantation.
So, you want to know where your wood comes from? It comes from the elephant graveyard, and yes, I am talking about the scene from the lion king. Tree plantations are like nothing I have ever seen or experienced before. From above they look like a healthy thriving forest to an untrained eye, but to one who sees, there is literally nothing more devastating. Plantations are previously clear cut acreage that has been replanted with one species (usually Douglas Fir) in a grid pattern 8x8 ft. apart. In the beginning, there is devastation due to erosion and invasive pioneer species that thrive in full sunlight, especially on a piece of land that hasn’t seen full sunlight in decades to hundreds of years. Wildlife is displaced or destroyed. Then, there is crowding and darkness. After 20-ish years, the conifers grow up so close to each other that they touch or envelop one another. There is no light, no life, and nothing grows beneath this dense canopy. The timber companies do this so that trees grow as straight as possible with the least amount of imperfections.
Then, the elephants. It brings me to my knees often as I walk through the dark forest, immediately affected by the blatant change. Hidden within all of the skinny, cramped trees of the plantation are the skeletons of the giants that came before. Massive stumps that are burned and beaten withstanding the test of time and mother nature while the chainsaw marks are still there as if it happened yesterday. I feel so much pain in this place surrounded by dampened darkness and lifelessness in all directions. I sit with these giants and I sob with them. Their pain is real. I try to hold them and tell them that I see them… and just how sorry I am for something that I couldn’t control. I wonder how many times has this grandmother tree seen this plot ravaged and replanted in a monoculture, greed based system and I weep for them. This is not a place conducive to harboring wildlife anymore. It is dark and damp and lifeless without a bug or bird in sight or earshot. All I can feel is the overwhelming loneliness and it breaks my heart. This is the loneliest place on the planet.
Many would say that to humanize a tree is silly, but I find it silly for humans to dehumanize any living creature. A tree understands when their system is failing and when it is flourishing. I will never accept the fact that if a creature cannot vocalize their emotions into a language I can understand, that they do not feel or speak. When you cut a tree the entire system understands and sends aid. When you separate a mother and child (no matter what the species) you can sense the heartache and loss. It is narcissistic and short sided of humans to dehumanize the rest of the planet because we do not understand them.
I am also realizing that it is my job to bring that awareness and connection back into the minds and hearts of the human race, as I believe it is the only way for us to live in harmony on this planet. If we are disconnected from the resources that provide us shelter and sustenance, how are we supposed to feel connected to anything? Or to each other?
How does one plant a seed of change into the hearts and minds of an industry hell bent on quarterly profits and nonstop growth?