Timber, Behavior, Change
An Uneasy Trio

by Gilles d'Aymery

December 11, 2000



Did our last week's little tale, Story of a Chainsaw War, From Menlo Park to Luna, contain any lesson applicable to a 1000-year old majestic redwood tree? It may have, inasmuch as we human beings talk a lot about change yet seem to mostly undergo any with much duress. And it certainly brings to the fore some of the behaviors we would all benefit from….if we stopped using them altogether!

A question came to mind that had to do with forms, shapes, and values. The more I thought about the trees, the small ones being chain-sawed in our neighborhood and the wounded majestic Luna in Northern California and its brothers and sisters being methodically harvested in the entire Northwest, the more confused I became. I simply could not differentiate among them. So I sent a short e-mail to Milo Clark and to Jan Baughman as follows:

What is the difference between a 1,000-year old tree and a 5-year old tree? Is there a difference? What's the difference between a 5-year old kid and an 80-year old granny?

Milo Clark was kind enough to compose a compelling response. It entailed more questions than answers and illuminated the complexities of the issue. With his authorization, we are publishing his words, Luna and Christmas Tree.

Jan, for her part busy at work, could not spare much time and sent back a short reply. It read:

"A 1000-year old tree and an 80-year old person are history; knowledge, wisdom, contributions that cannot be replaced.

A 5-year old is potential; the future, hope, and potential, that must not be destroyed.

We should consider them equally valuable. It is easy to say that we'll destroy the 1000 year olds and merely replace them with 5 year olds. But soon all the 1000 year olds are gone, and we haven't the wisdom or the patience of 1000 years. Ignoring both the future and the past is an invitation to self-destruction, as we are left without a reference to things grander than our miniscule selves."

A thoughtful and sensitive opinion from a thoughtful and sensitive human being…

But hold your horses. Did I correctly read that "A 5-year old is potential; the future, hope, and potential, that must not be destroyed?" Was this written by the same Jan Baughman who in 1994 and 1995 helped me week after week to clear the unwanted privets and plum trees bearing their inedible fruits in our yard? The same Jan Baughman with whom I bought an 8-hp mulcher from Sears to mulch the countless branches we had cut? The same who helped me uproot the trunks and roots of the trees by hand, one after the other? How many? Fifty easily, perhaps more, small unwanted trees that had grown into our lot left unattended for many years before we moved in.

Yes, it was and it is.


The irony did not escape our close friend Frank Wycoff. He and other friendly neighbors had nicknamed me the "tree destroyer." All the while, "vandals" were destroying the young trees that had been planted in the street devices. And with other members of the Fair Oaks Beautification Association, I had devised the non-confrontational response to the tree cutters.

Of course, I could justify our clearing -- there is always a justification, whichever side you are on -- on the basis that the lot had become a fire hazard, that one neighbor had requested we clean "our" mess (I have photos to prove the mess), that we were careful to only cut trees according to the county rules and regulations (hmmm…), that we fully intended to replant (and we did: 17 cypress trees, some 130 pittosporum tenuifolium, peach, avocado, citrus, pear trees, 9 birch trees, 3 maple trees and countless diverse plants), AND that it was on "our" property.

Our property… Hmmm…

They, the tree cutters, were cutting trees much smaller than the ones we were cutting. They did not like those trees. We did not like ours. But they were not cutting them in plain daylight on their properties. They were acting surreptitiously, at night, on the public streets that belong to the state. They were "vandals" trying to make a statement. We were "homeowners" trying to clean a mess. Bad tree cutters vs. good tree cutters... Right?

The law is the law is the law. The archives of the Library of Congress must hold billions of pages directly related to property laws.

Define your enemies…

"A 5-year old is potential; the future, hope, and potential, that must not be destroyed."

Milo Clark writes, "The tree fallers love their fallen trees on one dimension and love the forests of trees on another."

And he also says, "Tree fallers know that nearly all of us ranting and raving and raging about Luna are hypocrites -- just like them. They love the trees and cut them down. We howl about tree cutting and waste trees in our own ways."

We waste trees in our own ways…

Define your enemies…

The tree fallers that make a miserly living cutting 1,000-year old trees so that we can buy redwood boards at our local lumberyard for our house sidings, our fences, our decks? The tree huggers who build their houses, fences and decks with the redwood boards supplied by the mills?

In a short few years or decades the questions will be moot. Once the remaining redwood groves are harvested we will be left with plastic sidings, plastic fences, plastic decks.

In the Northeast the beautiful white-sided houses are already being built with plastic sidings. We built our deck with Trex (a wood-like product made from reclaimed plastic and wood waste).

Milo Clark again: "Historically, most of the grand trees of what is now eastern USA were gone before the Declaration of Independence -- wonderful for hulls and masts of grand ships of the line.

The progressions of denuding America of marketable trees have gone like a wave ever westward and like most large expanses, every wave has an echoing wave following."

This is not an American phenomenon. Look at the Amazon rainforest. The rates of destruction are mind-boggling as you can find out for yourselves on the Rainforest Action Network Web site. Any idea of the impact your favorite hamburger joint has on the rainforest? *

Never mind, it's called forest management… It means, in summary, that so long as there is a demand, there is a buck to be made, and so long as there remains trees, the dance will carry on. And we are ALL actively participating in the dance.

Pathetic behavior, no?

So, our across-the-street neighbors, otherwise quite decent fellows, gave us the hardest time because they had always parked their innumerous vehicles (I once actually counted 14 for a family of 4 plus a guest) perpendicularly and had no intention to change their long-time practice.

The opponents of the neighborhood street devices raised hell at what they considered was an ill-fated change, and one or a few of them took matters in his or their own hands, vandalizing trees.

Julia Butterfly Hill and her friends wanted change. They too took matters in their own hands, Julia spending two years in Luna and developing an incredible symbiosis with the tree.

Tree fallers defended their way of life, however niggardly it may be, and one or a few of them took matters in his or their own hands, cutting 32 inches deep into two-thirds of Luna.

Tree owners, the timber and lumber companies, defended and keep defending their property rights; the right to do as they so please as long as there is a demand for old growth timber and a profit to be made.




We want change as long as it does not affect us personally. "Not in my backyard," goes the saying. Or, "only in my backyard," as may be the case. We must change. You start first. In each instance above a party initiates change. An opposite party refuses the change. Enmity is created. Quickly enough demonization of one party by the other - and inversely - occurs.

You initiated change and it's not to my liking. You've just become the enemy. Do I have the law on my side ("property rights") or do I have to take the matter in my own hands (tree-cutters, Julia Butterfly & co., and the like)?

The local constables, the court system will decide. There is already a criminal investigation into Luna's attack. Criminal investigation about someone whose entire life and mantra is focused on cutting trees… Adversary, opponent, foe, rival, challenger, enemy, antagonist, all are synonyms. And the court system is….an adversarial system.

Action, reaction, destruction…

Still defining your enemies?

Milo Clark, in conclusion: "Attempting to solve problems using the tools, techniques and thoughts which create them is silly."


* Or, for that matter, look at the tiny island nation of Nauru, 1,200 miles east of New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean. It used to have a dense tropical forest until phosphate was discovered in the late 19th century and siphoned away shipload by shipload. Jack Hitt in this Sunday's edition of the New York Times Magazine writes that, "Nauru has essentially been tonsured, sheared of greenery and dug down to the rock. The island's interior is a lunar landscape.


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Related links

Luna and Christmas Tree - by Milo Clark

Luna's Cut - by Julia Butterfly Hill



Resources on the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath


Articles Published on Swans Regarding the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath

Published December 11, 2000
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