A large stump raised six feet above ground on buttressed roots offers a good lookout. The man who felled this tree cut two deep notches in its base, which I use to clamber on top. It’s about five feet in diameter and nearly flat, except for a straight ridge across the center where the cutter left hinge wood to direct the tree’s fall. The surface is soggy and checked, but still ridged with the concentric growth rings. On hands and knees, nose almost touching the wood, using my knife blade as a poster, I start to count. In a short while, I know the tree died in its four hundred and twenty-third year. […]
Now I gaze into a valley miles deep, laid bare to its high slopes, with only patches of living timber left between the clearcut swaths. Where I stand now, a great tree once grew. The circle that mark the centuries of its life surround me, and I dream back through them. It’s difficult to imagine the beginnings – perhaps a seed that fell from a flurry of crossbills like those I saw a while ago. More difficult still is the incomprehensible distance of time this tree crossed, as it grew from a limber switch on the forest floor to a tree perhaps 150 feet tall and weighing dozens of tons. Another way to measure the scope of its life is in terms of storms. Each years scores of them swept down this valley – thousands of boiling gales and blizzards in the tree’s lifetime – and it withstood them all.
The man who walked up beside it some twenty years ago would have seemed no more significant than a puff of air on a summer afternoon.
Perhaps thin shafts of light shone onto the forest floor that day, and danced on the velvet moss. I wonder what that man might have thought, as he looked into the tree’s heights and prepared to bring it down. Perhaps he thought only about the job at hand, or his aching back, or how long it was until lunch. I would like to believe he gave some consideration to the tree itself, to its death and his responsibilities toward it, as he pulled the cord that set his chainsaw blaring. […]
The clearcut valley rumbled like an industrial city through a full decade of summers, as the island’s living flesh was stripped away. Tugs pulled great rafts of logs from Deadfall Bay, through tide-slick channels toward the mill, where they were ground into pulp and slurried aboard ships bound for Japan. Within a few months, the tree that took four centuries to grow was transformed into newspapers, read by commuters on afternoon trains, and then tossed away.
~ Richard Nelson, The Island Within