Reading the newspaper? Yes? Think about it.


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



  1. I must get this book. Beautiful writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This passage is so eloquent and so evocative, it makes my heart ache. We live in a heavily forested area and recently several neighbors have clear cut their properties. I feel physically ill when I pass by–it’s like an open wound on the land. The word ‘assault’ pops unbidden into my mind every single time I see the places and the jagged stumps offer a silent indictment. Nelson sums it up so beautifully….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Making me not enjoy the touch of my newspaper right now….great writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Do we think about where our resources comes from – only a few do David. Interestingly this is what the farming community are trying to push over here – where did your food come from and understanding the process from raising up animals to the slaughter then the butchers and finally our plate – very few people witness these processes – we have become far removed from the processes that sustain modern living.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ouch. on so many levels. reminds me of the children’s book, ‘the giving tree,’ the story of a tree that sacrifices itself for love. only these trees don’t have a choice. one of my fav activities is to read real newspapers each day, and this makes me think –

    Liked by 1 person

  6. How timely, just as our forests are burning up.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Digital it is, and has been for quite a while. Very beautiful writing, need to get the book.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Nice writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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