It’s hard to imagine the California of the 1940s. Even though European and American settlers had been in the area for hundreds of years at that point, much of the natural beauty of the land was still untouched and pristine. To those emigrating from the still beautiful but much less ancient forests east of the Rockies, these immense and towering Redwoods must have inspired a sense of wonder and even holy dread. Looking upon these gigantic, majestic trees in sprawling forests that went on into the horizon, it must have seemed unthinkable that humanity could have had any remarkable impact on these endless woods that had abided in quietude for thousands of years.
It could be that humans in the past have thought of the Earth as one does a parent in the innocence of childhood–as unshakeable, invincible and too big, too strong to be hurt, no matter the damage inflicted upon it. It is in that uncertain period of adolescence, which maybe humanity is entering into now, that we realize that our parents–and therefore we too–are mortal. Things that once seemed intractable and eternal, like the Redwood forests, are now revealed, in the horror of their widespread destruction, as much, much more fragile than we had thought. We can no longer treat the planet carelessly, oblivious to the consequences of our behavior. Like teenagers, we begin to realize that the choices we make can hurt us and those around us.
In the video above, the narrator seems to speak in equal parts reverence for and dismissal of the Redwoods. There’s an awareness that the Redwoods are ancient and even sacred; the narrator mentions that some of these Redwoods were alive during the time of Christ. These trees, the narrator lets us know, survived thousands of years of forest fires and natural disasters only to be felled by human hands. But it’s not meant to be a sad sentiment. This film reel applauds humans as having conquered these giants of the natural world and put them to use “for the benefit of mankind.” Watching these ancient trees be clear-cut so indiscriminately may be sickening to us today, but it was a feat and sign of progress in that era. Maybe it was the very feeling that the trees were so old, huge and magnificent in comparison to the tiny human being that spurred our egos into wanting to cut them down and prove to ourselves that we were not as insignificant as they made us feel. Once we had conquered these forests, relegated them into National Parks “for our enjoyment” (as the narrator is sure to mention), we could be assured that we were the masters of our own destiny, not subject any longer to the laws of the natural world.
Regardless, we got what we wanted. We’ve shaped our destiny in defiance of the laws of Nature and left our mark upon the planet in the form of global warming, the devastation of forests, and the twisting shrapnell of plastic in the oceans and the stomachs of dying animals. Like teenagers, we’ve been made to feel the impact of our selfish choices for the first time. And like teenagers, we are in a period of our lives so precarious, so dangerous that we ourselves are only just dimly aware of its significance. Whether we survive or perish now is as we always wanted it to be–entirely up to us.
The good news is most people manage to survive the perils of adolescence with a bit more wisdom about the precariousness of our place in the world and a few embarrassing memories of the foolish things we did when we didn’t know any better. It’s been about seventy years since that film reel was made, and more and more people are waking up to the impact destructive forestry practices have on the environment. We now know that our past actions toward the environment were selfish and stupid, and slowly a change is happening in the way we treat the natural world.
At Forever Redwood, we go further than just practicing sustainable forestry; we strive to truly restore the health of the forests we steward so that ancient growth like the trees in this film can have time to appear again. You can learn more about Forever Redwood’s restoration forestry program here, and get more news about the environment and ecologically sound ideas at our facebook page. Have thoughts you’d like to share? Feel free to leave a comment below!