Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Cactus Ed and Arboricide

Edward Abbey, The Crooked Wood:
My father has been a logger, sawyer, and woodsman for most of his life. I myself have put in a fair share of time with ax, crosscut saw, chain saw, sledge, and wedge at the reduction of trees into fuel, post, and lumber. I understand and sympathize with the reasonable needs of a reasonable number of people on a finite continent. All men and women require shelter. All life depends upon other life. But what is happening today, in North America, is not rational use but irrational massacre. Man the Pest, multiplied to the swarming stage, is attacking the remaining forests like a plague of locusts on a field of grain. Knowing now what we have learned, unless the need were urgent, I could no more sink the blade of an ax into the tissues of a living tree than I could drive it into the flesh of a fellow human.
Such a sentiment might have been expected from Empedocles, who thought (fragment 117, tr. Matthew P.J. Dillon) that his soul had once occupied a bush (thámnos), if not a tree:
For I have already been born as a boy and a girl and a bush and a bird and a dumb fish leaping out of the sea.

ἤδη γάρ ποτ' ἐγὼ γενόμην κοῦρός τε κόρη τε θάμνος τ' οἰωνός τε καὶ ἔξαλος ἔλλοπος ἰχθύς.
Homer, Iliad 16.482-484 (tr. Richmond Lattimore), compared the death of a man (Sarpedon) with the fall of a tree:
He fell, as when an oak goes down or a white poplar,
or like a towering pine tree which in the mountains the carpenters
have hewn down with their whetted axes to make a ship-timber.

ἤριπε δ᾽ ὡς ὅτε τις δρῦς ἤριπεν ἢ ἀχερωῒς
ἠὲ πίτυς βλωθρή, τήν τ᾽ οὔρεσι τέκτονες ἄνδρες
ἐξέταμον πελέκεσσι νεήκεσι νήϊον εἶναι.
See also Edward Abbey, letter to the editor of the Arizona Daily Star (June 29, 1988):
The Pima County Transportation Department is doubling the width of Sweetwater Street, in the process destroying some of the biggest, oldest and loveliest palo verde trees in the city. (Our state tree, by the way.)
Related posts: Views from the Center of Highgate Wood; Artaxerxes and Arboricide; When the Last Tree Falls; The Hamadryads of George Lane; Sorbs and Medlars; So Foul a Deed; Like Another Erysichthon; The Fate of Old Trees; Scandalous Misuse of the Globe; The Groves Are Down; Massacre; Executioners; Anagyrasian Spirit; Butchers of Our Poor Trees; Cruel Axes; Odi et Amo; Kentucky Chainsaw Massacre; Hornbeams; Protection of Sacred Groves; Lex Luci Spoletina; Turullius and the Grove of Asclepius; Caesarian Section; Death of a Noble Pine; Two Yew Trees in Chilthorne, Somerset; The Fate of the Shrubbery at Weston; Willows; The Trees Are Down; Sad Ravages in the Woods; An Old Saying; Strokes of Havoc; Maltreatment of Trees; Arboricide; An Impious Lumberjack; Erysichthon in Ovid; Erysichthon in Callimachus; Vandalism.

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