The Continued Deforestation of America

I’ve been sorting through files that belonged to Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, files that I couldn’t sort through right after he died. It felt voyeuristic then, and it feels voyeuristic now because the pictures, notes, cartoons a person saves tells a lot about that person, more maybe than they would want anyone to know. Still, I didn’t want to throw out that particular file without going through it just in case there was something I might need. (Though how I could need something I’d never seen before, I couldn’t tell you.)

I’m glad I did. I came across the photos posted below, photos that took my breath away. I remember reading stories in grade school history and reading classes about settlers, and the stories always seemed to begin or end with the hardy souls cutting down trees and clearing the land. This legend was so ingrained, it wasn’t until my twenties I realized the truth. What????? They cut down trees for farmland????? Trillions and trillions of trees — for what? The American dream of owning a piece of land? The insanity of it all is . . . well, insane. Yes, I know — persecutions in Europe, religious and political freedom, etc, etc, etc, but unconscionable for all that.

Coincidentally, I recently wrote a piece about how wilderness areas are being called irrelevant now, but I guess the truth is, wilderness areas have always been irrelevant to this country. Once people had cut down all the eastern trees, they set out to tame the west. And here we are today — tamed into submission. Is it any wonder I am committed to finding the wildness within?

Jeff and I planted hundreds of trees. I have a hunch most of them have been cut down by now, but still, we did our part to reforest America. And that is something to be proud about.

Forests in 1620

forests 1850

forests 1999


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

12 Responses to “The Continued Deforestation of America”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    A lot of this corrosive attitude to America’s trees and wilderness is related to that one phrase of Genesis about working and subduing the land. It’s terrible, I know. The Native Americans tried to live in harmony with nature. They saw it as a force to be reckoned with. And if things continue as they are, the Earth might become inhospitable to us due to global warming and its effects on ecosystems. Because nature really is a force to be reckoned with, and we may end up paying the price if we tip the scales too far to one side.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s amazing to me that scientists compare climates between now and the seventeenth century without ever mentioning the loss of trees. It’s always us they blame, when in fact, the trees were long gone before any of our recent progenitors were born.

      • rami ungar the writer Says:

        I think they do, it’s just coal is having a much more drastic effect on the climate and that gets mentioned more often.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          Could be, but they certainly can’t use any previous eras of human occupation as a baseline climate paradigm since humans have always altered their climates and the world. Supposedly human depredation went a long way to destroying all the big cats, birds, and other exotic creatures, just like they did with the buffalo. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what the loss of trees and buffalo combined did to the world’s ecosystems.

          • rami ungar the writer Says:

            Not just trees. Simple grass being uprooted in the American West destabilized the ground and caused the Dust Bowl during the Depression. I had to read a whole book about it for a class back in spring. Terrific stuff. Inspired a short story.

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            Yes, huge tracts of grass. There was a vast region of badlands where I used to live in Colorado. At one time, there were lush grasses, but some English earl or duke came and ran herds of cattle that ate the native grasses, even the roots. Nothing grows there any more. It doesn’t seem as if humans learn. Or if they do, they don’t care. The English royalty took their fortune and went back to England.

          • rami ungar the writer Says:

            It’s pretty mixed. Sometimes humans don’t learn, other times they do and they just don’t give a damn. There are those who learn and act upon the lessons, but they are a minority.

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            Let’s strive to be in that minority.

    • Ree` Edwards Says:

      “The Native Americans tried to live in harmony with nature. They saw it as a force to be reckoned with.”
      Uh, rami,
      With all due respect, the Native Americans didn’t so much as “see it as a force to be reckoned with”, as it was out of pure respect for the land itself. They, for the most part, always left the land as good or better than they found it. It was always an ever present (for them) of ‘knowing a Higher Power’… No matter that they were off in their thinking that there was more than One. (Of that descent on both sides of my family.)

  2. Juliet Waldron Says:

    Trees, lungs of the earth! I’m so proud to know someone who has actually gone out and done the work–you’ve tried to make things better for future generations, and that always counts!

    I fear we are on a ship of fools…perhaps the planet will survive the holocaust-like anthropocene. I certainly hope so.

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