Welcome dear listeners.
I am Katarina Bonnevier and this is “Night time tree cult.”
It is late afternoon, you are invited to follow me and the queer couple Fylgia and Devinez into the woods . Fylgia moves habitually, makes a towering, competent impression. She has a washed out purple cap, rubber boots and a well-worn knife in a leather case on her belt. It is her forest, she is a forester and she knows every tree here. She knows them like we know the books in our bookshelves. Devinez seems petite next to Fylgia. With fluid clothes, a long skirt, soft leather beak shoes and a juniper walking stick she would look apart in any time or place, but also strangely appropriate, timeless. She has been around, started out as a journalist but these days her calling goes beyond any categorization. Fylgia’s voice is low and mater of fact as she says:
The best hour in the forest is at dusk, that is when I can move here completely invisible amongst the shadows. Keep out of the way from humans. It is a particular kind of stillness filled with newly awakened night creatures; wild boars and their piglets, an owl hunting, angels dancing across the moss.
It is a mixed forest, leaves, needles and lichen, scrubs, wicker and stems. Now, in the late summer, bracken, sloe and birch has shifted to yellow, the lingonberries shine bright red in small clusters along our path. Both Fylgia and Devinez moves without hesitation, I have a hard time keeping up with them and feel clumsy in relation to their smooth strides. Do they even touch the ground? They watch ahead, the terrain is part of their physiques. I have to look down to avoid stumbling over roots, rocks and sticks. (You, my dear listeners, may choose how you move across the landscape in this imaginary ramble. Maybe you flutter about like forest pigeons?). Fylgia stops and sweeps with her hand.
Here, next to the mountain, two hundred years ago, here was a peat quarry, do you see the indents in the moss? (The surface of the land is slightly undulating, it is possible to apprehend some overgrown barely noticeable trenches.) Nowadays the grouses have their play dates here in spring time.
Devinez takes a deep breath, like she tastes the air, and nods slowly. She is pleased. The ground is wet, stark green and nutritious. I silently praise my hiking boots, my mind drift away, the boots have been my companions for almost ten years. They can handle snow and sludge, and in the summer they guard against the heat and thorns. Sometimes I wear them when I lecture. In the lecture hall they serve as a reminder of the outdoors, climbing over slopes of shingle stones, keeping your feet dry through a jåkk. Whether it is on moss, gravel, concrete or carpets, I stand firmly on the ground. There is no great difference. I stand above the ground I tread on. The boots support me and make me cope with anything. I become self-assertive in my boots, I develop a queer dyke’s body. In bold strides, I walk around the city blocks in my best boots. If anyone wonders, I have the right to walk here, early or late, and be who I am. The boots fit well in a concrete wilderness. But, hang on, let’s get back to the living wilderness.
While pondering my boots I have kept on moving. If we turn and look back on the path I just took across the peat moss, my foot prints have made small puddles in the wet land. The imprints plant a suspicion in my heart, I recall a radio interview with author and artist Tove Jansson and hear her voice in my head: ‘Tredje gången du går över mossan dör den’ [The third time you step on the moss it dies]. The moss did not ask me to come here.
Devinez and Fylgia have started to climb the rock-strewn slope ahead of us. Let’s catch up with them. Panting I throw Fylgia some questions: How do you see your role as a forester? I mean, it is how you make your living, isn’t it?
Well, we do not affect the vegetation in this area, we do not thin out, we do not remove trees felled by storm. Most of our property have plantation forest, mainly fir-trees, but we have a relatively large amount of mixed forest. The farm is 406 hectares, of which 260 hectares are production forest. About 15% of our land is left to its own demises, becoming a natural forest, such as the one we are in right now. We are able to do this because of the FSC-certification, the 15% is requested in order to get the label. Our forestry is FSC-labeled, which means that sustainability perspectives on environmental issues and cultural herritage are part of the business.
Fylgia’s cellphone starts to ‘moo’ – someone is calling.
Ja? Ah-hum, kolla i verkstan, jag tror den ligger vid tryckluften.(She hangs up). Sorry.
I am studying so called “alternative” ways of cultivating and harvesting, like permaculture, stratified forestry, to chop without felling areas and so on, to change system, but we’ll see. It is a family business and my dad is convinced that we couldn’t afford such methods. A hippie bluff for the wealthy, he says. He said that about solar power as well, and now we sell to the grid. Well, eventually we’ll have the knowledge, skills and arguments… and possibly, some official funding.
I am impressed by Fylgia’s reasoning, her long-term commitment to change and compare it to my own restlessness. As we keep climbing upwards I continue to debate with myself, I want to have… ‘ha ordentligt på fötterna’ [wear sensible shoes] – I mean to rely on arguments that are built on diligent research. Metaphorically, that is. Practically speaking, the feet should be kept dry and strengthened by double layers of socks. Boots properly laced and with solid soles. Reinforced toes and waxed seams. A technology that creates a microclimate around the foot, separating me from nature and from the surface of the ground. My boots shield me from the terrain, but also urge me to go outdoors. I can forgo the roads, even the trampled paths. Move freely. High in spirit and brave. Yet perhaps I step on herbs and small bugs that way. The soles make me into a settler parading in colonial boots. The conqueror’s clumsy way of walking through the land differs from those already living here. I feel a lump in my solar plexus. Devinez is looking at me, as if she has heard my thoughts she says:
If humankind were not so lazy and restless we would live in a heavenly garden, with, and not on top of, this planet. You know my name. It is a call. ‘Devinez’ [Imagine]. Imagine otherwise. Desires have a strange power. We need a vision of a world with meaning in order for the power of desire to come alive again. Imagination carries a direction towards the system shift we need, from a domination with ruthless devastation where nature is cheap to a nutritious soil where everything, even people and places, form parts of a living organism.
A squirrel is passing our way, jumps into a tiny spruce and is gone.
These pines look small, but they are ancient. I made a core sample on one of the stems, the annual rings where so dense I had to use a magnifying glass and the tip of my knife to count – it was more than 450 years old.
The ancients know. Tales that are in themselves old, tell of even older times when wishes still helped. Let us listen.
We sit down on a silver grey log that has fallen across the granite rock, the wood is soft, no bark left. A flock of doves fly in, when they land they undergo a metamorphosis and turn into figures, so breathtaking I find no words to describe them (of course, they are you my dear audience, in your most magical appearance). The fluttering settles as the darkness descends and the nightfall lesson begins. It feels completely natural that the trees starts to speak:
Our old ones stand in cracks in the bedrock, gnarled and twisted by the wind, with growth rings thin as paper. Our root systems can become extremely old, on Fulu Mountain there are spruces whose roots have been working their way through the earth for over 8000 years. Old Tjikko is 9550 years old, zie is the known world’s third oldest living organism and the world’s oldest individual tree clone.
We sprouted and put down roots, my clan and I. In the way of humans we have received names, they call us birch, aspen, oak, hazel, spruce and pine. Our types are common in this part of the world, in fact we trees and forests make up the basis for a culture common to the whole region. At the same time each one of us is absolutely unique. We’re like humans, or possibly better than humans.
Hear, hear. Dear trees you have a support system so perfect any economist twist their hands in envy. Could you please tell us about your wise, longsighted and fruitful ways of operating?
Your rustle with your flatter… Well, in the fall before we birch and aspen shed our leaves we drain some important substances and save them under our bark until spring. Other substances fall to the ground with the leaves, but that’s okay, because they macerate during winter and is sucked up again from the dirt by our roots. We birches are pioneer trees creating brush and groves, growing quickly and easily when the ground is laid bare by clear-cuts, storms, forest fires and such. After that we come, the spruces and pines, durable and tough, growing up in already dense forests and are often allowed to stand for a hundred years or more since our fine lumber builds communities (we others must accept being thinned out).
One should think it over before one chop down one or several trees in group. The trees that are left standing feel bad, some branches dry out and it is not like you pick yourself up and widen your crowns. My guess is that it depends on the wind and that you, just like we humans, have to adapt, get used to stand alone.
When you fell a tree, any tree, you are sure to be messing with important contexts down below in the hidden layers of soil. Namely, here we have relationships from the root system of one tree to the other. It is not like each tree provision in isolation nor prepare nutrition solely in their own kitchen. The bigger trees with a root system that is more branched out, take up nutrition and feed the weaker trees down below, while from the non-soil perspective of rootless beings it might look like they hinder and shade the smaller ones.
If this collective system rapidly is troubled by lightning or axe so a large network of roots dry up, then we spruces and pines who are also suffering, while you humans rant: “Well, now you have a place in the sun, grow up!
You build a whole philosophy on this idea about the battle in nature for a place in the sun, which in its turn serve as a foundation for the theory of the necessity of war and the survival of the fittest.
We humans behave as if we have forgotten that when strength comes up against weakness, it triggers a desire to protect. In fact people love weakness; otherwise the human infant would not stand a chance. Life is the gift the strong give to the weak. Voluntary sacrifice of the strong plays a larger part in the preservation of life than the strong who extort power over the weak. If the powerfully built carries the load, the tiny can skip ahead and scout out the terrain.
So true. Life has developed through collaboration rather than competition. Through flocks, crowds, coalitions, confederations and companionship between all living creatures on earth: humans, fishes, angels, the hind in the pasture, the trees in the groove and the flower in the field. Living organisms and nonorganic material, forests, oceans and mountain ranges all are part of a dynamic system which creates the biosphere and sustains the possibility for life on the planet.
To emphasize their claim the trees catch a cloud of bad scent and pour it over us. Its filled with the suffocating words from a choir called THE WAR MACHINERY, I think we all have heard those words a thousand times.
THE WAR MACHINERY chants
‘The principle of battle leads nature. The trees combat in the woods, the animals fight for food, the humans conquer, everyone wants a place in the sun!’
That is what they say. Those who do not know the secrets of the trees.
In the stillness after their speech we can hear the grass grow. My skin, every part of my being is listening. Slowly I start to perceive a faint but enormous all enclosing, almost silent vibration, what, or, who is that? There are words that come from underneath my feet, roll through my every cell.
I, the earth, have a self-interest. I am capable of acting out of my own interest. I am a living organism. I live by the beat of a heart.
And this, dear listeners, is where our imaginary walk in the woods ends.