The Shadow of Silviculture, part 2

Silviculture (growing ‘tree gardens’).

When we live in the bush or on a farm, cutting trees is a reality we must face or we will be overgrown. I hate cutting trees, and have a hard time with it, as I do with killing animals for food. But I consider both a necessity in the North, where the ground is frozen for half the year.

Mostly I cut standing deadwood for the fire, which is its own ‘taking’ but it doesn’t hurt so much. Unlike in the intensive silviculture areas such as the Madawaska Forest Garden, and here at Golden Lake where I have to cut healthy trees. I put it off as long as I can, often considering and negotiating with the trees for many years, and then I do a bunch all at once.

Why would I have to kill a healthy tree? Well, with silviculture, (growing forests), it’s the same as why you have to pull some ‘weeds’ in your garden. True to my wildculturing garden philosophy, which leans toward letting everything grow as long as it can and as big as it can (before seeding); before it’s harvested to enrich the ground it grew from. The same holds true in a forest garden. In the garden, I need to weed a few times over the growing season. With the forest garden it seems I have to cull some trees every ten years! Or a few times over the eighty year design of this successional polyculture garden.

Because it happens so seldom it’s a big deal for me doing the needed cutting. Of those that had to go there were at least two really big healthy Sugar Maples that had benefited over the last twenty five years from the clearing I made for the polyculture forest garden. In that time, some of the nut trees, at the back or north edge of the clearing (receiving the most direct sunlight), had seriously grown, and leaned into the opening, to the point that a Heartnut, Butternut and Carpathian Walnut were completely over-canopied. These trees were not only getting stunted from the lack of light but also getting lopsided, reaching out horizontally to the south for the sun, making them destined to topple at an older age.

Cutting up sugar maples in the forest garden

Much like when we have to take the lives of animals, when cutting down trees I’ve found having other ’guys’ around is very helpful. Not that you’d need to be a guy, but you need that ‘masculine’ energy. Having others around at these times helps not only in the practical sense, but the numbers somehow help dissipate the grief as well. You share in your sense of purpose and necessity and don’t get weighed down or caught by the sadness of the event.

When we live away from nature and natural ways of living, like in the city, there is no place for that warrior ‘masculine’ energy in our life. This energy that we’ve fostered and cultivated for thousands of years we don’t really need anymore in our highly monitored reality. But whether you identify as a man, woman or as non-binary, I believe we all need these ‘men’ in ourselves. They are part of us and have a place that can’t be lost. When we have to stand and sever off our ties with people, the warrior lives in our legs and decisiveness. Having said that we must also remember, the warrior needs direction. They are not to be in charge.

I think for most kids or maybe even most of us under 60, we don’t see this energy in real life anymore. And the truth is we can now exist in an illusory ‘passive’ state where there is no external need for this type of masculine energy to express itself. No need to kill things or stand up in physical defence for our rights. These days it often feels the only time we see this ‘maleness’ is in soldiers, sports and superhero movies, but not in our home. And sadly, when we don’t see this part of ourselves, when it’s not ‘represented’ in a healthy way there are imbalances and disease created. While our culture is still patriarchal it is the end of that time and in that turning we have come to live in a patricidal culture. Look around, all our representations of men since the 1980s have been laughable or deeply corrupt. For men fifty and under these are the only images they see of the masculine. It almost feels like pre- 1960s when women, people of colour and queer people had no positive representation in mass media. Not having positive imagines of ourselves as we grow up makes it that much harder to stand up and be who you are, and in doing so help heal the collective health of our culture.

It’s interesting the way this post turned. I didn’t intend to write about ‘men’ but I do very much think of the above ground part of trees, in their verticality and shape, as masculine. So I suppose it’s not surprising, since I’m honouring the tree’s energy, this is where we’ve ended up. Anyway, all that was to say I brought a friend with me. Which, it’s also worth mentioning, is a good idea for safety reasons when you’re cutting big trees with a chainsaw out in the bush in the middle of nowhere. Under those conditions it’s also good to have two saws, axes, hatchet, wedges and ropes in case your primary saw gets stuck.

Before we did any cutting we did a counter-clockwise circle around the site with tobacco offerings, out of respect and to let the trees know some cutting was going to happen and why. The old ones in particular were prayed around and deeply connected with and thanked before I cut them. And when I cut them I was one with them. I wasn’t looking at them, I had turned inside and fell with them. In both cases these 70+ year old maples, that were over 60 ft tall, had to be ‘dropped on a pin’ or they would crush the very trees I was trying to free-up by cutting them. I accepted the risk and imagined I might snap at least a big branch or two off trees in the range. If not a 6” trunk of a 25 year old tree! But the Godhead of the trees accepted my prayers and favoured me, not a twig got broken. The wild arctic Kiwis got a little crushed, but they can handle it no problem. The smaller branches of the trees we felled were cut up so they’d lie on the ground. The closer the trees are to the ground and leaf litter the quicker they will compost, in turn feeding the nut trees that are left. Hugelkultur is based on replicating this natural way forests feed themselves for garden production. The bigger pieces of the wood (over 8”) were stacked and set aside. They’ll dry for a couple years, after which they’ll be used for firing the sugaring pan to make maple syrup. We left the Forest Garden with prayers and in peace for likely another ten years. By then, Gods and Goddesses willing, I might be watching my son or daughter do the cutting.