Though I’ve always been more of a ‘tree planter’ than a ‘tree cutter,’ I have also found the activities associated with cleaning up the forest floor of debris and limbing trees to be both relaxing and invigorating. It’s an excellent way to exercise in the fresh air.
I don’t use a chainsaw, but I can do quite a bit of cutting with a handsaw or an axe. I *love* knocking down standing dead wood. There’s something satisfying in the thumping sound it makes when it hits the forest floor. I also enjoy raking leaves in the woods, filling in the recessed areas and making the ground as level as possible. Well.. at least I used to… I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I am driven to clear and clean woods. Am I just trying to leave my mark on a space?
Traditionally, only cleared land in the Northern regions of Europe could be claimed for ownership. If woods were left in their primeval state they were considered a ‘no man’s land.’ When European settlers arrived in the New World, they brought with them the drive and desire to own their own piece of land. The best way to stake their claim was to start cleaning up the woods. When the Scots arrived in Nova Scotia in the early 1800s, they cleared the primeval forests at an unprecedented pace.
I spent much of my childhood in the woods with my grandparents who were both avid forest cleaners. My grandfather removed dead branches and trees from around our ‘camp’ while my grandmother raked up white pine needles and leaves. I too enjoyed taking my little axe into the woods to trim dead branches off the trees. We burned brush while also creating large wood piles for later burning in the wood stove.
But I don’t have a wood stove, so there is little incentive for me to cut wood for heating. Although the sight of trees standing at anything other than a 90 degree angle from the forest floor used to make me think I had to do something about it, I am now more hesitant to take down any that aren’t standing straight. Though I used to be concerned about dry wood being more of a fire hazard, apparently, this is less of a concern once debris begins to decompose on the forest floor. The variety of fungi growing in my backwoods is amazing.
Just the diversity of both flora and fauna that is sustained by forests left in their natural state is enough reason for me to keep my hands off. Recent reading on the value of old growth forests from a variety of sources has convinced me that they’re already pristine in their natural state. Aside from clearing pathways for walking, my time in the woods is probably better spent on activities other than cleaning.
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