Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sweeping Changes

I like to sit by the woodstove in the evening and lose myself in deep thought. The only problem is, lately, when I sit by the warm fire after a long busy day, I soon find myself in deep sleep instead.

Before I dozed off yet again Sunday night, I was planning on contemplating something I’ve been thinking about for the past few days. The days have been getting longer since the winter solstice, but an event I celebrate with similar glee is the day when the “normal minimum temperature” graph in the Boston Globe bottoms-out and starts to tick upwards. This happened last week when we spent a few days with a normal low of 21 degrees (F) and finally clicked up to 22 degrees. Spring is on the way! Now, every snowstorm and cold snap can be faced more bravely knowing that warmer weather is surely on the way. (An average number on a graph doesn’t mean we can’t still plunge into the teens and single digits now and then, just that it’s less likely.)

Friday morning when I was out running my errands, I noticed that the thermometer in the car read 22 degrees. It registered in my mind that this happened to be the normal low temperature for that date, and it was cold. (I trust my Minnesota readers will forgive me for referring to +22 degrees as cold.) I looked down the road at all the houses and businesses and thought about how every single one of them and the people inside are sustained by the burning of fossil fuel. I wondered what would happen if the gas and oil were suddenly shut off. I also considered how the fuel that makes (relatively) comfortable wintertime living in the North possible also created the forests we enjoy today.

It wasn’t that long ago that most of the Northeast was denuded of forest cover by farming, grazing, fuelwood cutting and charcoal making. Most of the farmers have long since moved west where the soils are better suited to agriculture. We no longer need charcoal and most of our wood fires today are more recreational than life-sustaining. As a result, the forest has grown back, but I tried to imagine what the woods would look like if we still had to get our energy for cooking and heat from trees. Life would be very different and our forests would be unrecognizable.

That night, I was watching a local weekly TV talk show about the news media. They were discussing how the daily newspaper is on the verge of disappearing, thanks largely to readers and advertisers moving to the web. I wondered what would happen to our northern forests if there was no longer a demand for all the pulpwood that goes into the manufacture of newsprint. I wondered if yet another technology-driven cultural shift was about to have a major impact on our forest landscape. I wondered how long it would be before I’d have to get my temperature charts online.

Sunday afternoon, I was leading a group around the Moose Hill Farm loop trail. On such hikes, I always pause to ask the young people why on Earth anyone would bother to build all those stone walls in the middle of the woods. After a few lame jokes about how much the colonists could achieve because they weren’t distracted by TVs and computers, I tried to get them to visualize what the rolling hills may have looked like with open fields and rocky walls as far as the eye could see.

I like to sit by a wood fire in the evening. I enjoy my stroll down the driveway to fetch the morning paper. When I’m sitting in the woods, I like to watch a chipmunk sitting on an old stone wall as he works on a fat acorn. The changing needs and desires of our society may spawn trends that sweep across the face of our forests, but the forests have always been there for us. The next time I fall asleep by the fire, I hope I dream of a future where forests continue to thrive and people value them for all the blessings they provide.

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10 Comments:

At 10:59 AM, Blogger nina said...

Dreaming right beside you!

I've always loved the winding piled stone walls of the northeast--such a regional character--and, as you say, demonstrating the history of this part of the country.

We have the flatrock walls.
Another regional variance.

 
At 11:56 AM, Blogger arcolaura said...

There's quiet hope in those words - thank you!

 
At 10:37 PM, Blogger Larry said...

I like the cautious words of enviromental optimism!-"And when I come home cold and tired-I like to warm my bones beside the fire"-

Your post brings back memories of that old Pink Floyd Song

 
At 8:33 AM, Blogger Lilly said...

Life is good. This morning, we are having an ice storm and the schools are closed . . . but the rest of the world is expected to go on as if nothing had changed. This always struck me as odd, how people go on about their human business now, rain or snow, cold or hot, dark or light. We expect our technology to smooth every natural bump. How I wish everyone could stay home when the ice comes down, warm themselves by the fire, and live with the rhythms of nature.
Best to you,
Lilly

 
At 9:53 AM, Blogger arcolaura said...

Lilly - I was thinking, just yesterday, about how much energy we could save by holing up in our cozy kitchens in the cold spells. Keep the doors closed against the wind, leave the block heaters unplugged, leave the thermostats turned down in the schools and stores and office buildings...

 
At 3:08 AM, Blogger Crayons said...

Mojo
This is a lovely post. I like the way you look at both the specific and the broader picture, all the while keeping as cozy at the fireside.

I want to read more of you.

 
At 4:31 AM, Blogger Lynne said...

Another beautifully written post Mojoman! Your words and the pictures they create in my mind are comfortable and comforting.

 
At 8:01 AM, Blogger SimplyTim said...

Mojoman,

Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment about Lyme Disease.

I hear you about the temperature starting to creep up again - but I'm also noticing something else this winter, I'm really enjoying the closer to home and hearth part and the back to basics of it all.

BTW, you may find Patrick Moore's essay on "Trees are the Answer" (http://www.greenspirit.com/trees_answer.cfm)

Tim

 
At 11:32 AM, Blogger lené said...

You have an amazingly critical mind(in that great intellectual way), Mojoman, which makes for some of the most engaging posts I read. I hadn't considered the use of fossil fuels and its impact on the physical lanscape other than through degradation/pollution, etc. Thank you for offering me another perspective. (btw...my internet hiatus is working despite my short hops online; having a cabin in the woods would make it easy; I never miss the web when I'm camping or outside...it's being in the daily mundane routine without the habitual communication connection that's tough to step away from.) :)

 
At 2:25 PM, Blogger CabinWriter-- said...

I get such comfort reading your words. You have the fortune to enter the woods and get lost in silence. When I need that same comfort, I read your entries and relax.

 

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