For over 2 decades this secret valley has my destination of retreat, and can be located a mere 15 minute walk through some pine reforestation on the outskirts of Hillsdale where I live.
I enter it very respectfully, being fully aware it is in the hands of private ownership. Being extremely careful not to leave any trace of my presence, I will exit a slightly different route than I entered. Throughout the different seasons, the places I enter and exit will vary, lest a trail will start to develop, which would draw attention to my intrusion.
For over 22 years I have come here, ever since my wife and I moved to Hillsdale, and when my oldest, who is going on 23, was a baby. This valley has been my place of retreat, a refuge, from the daily churn of hidebound life.
In a world that is constantly changing, the seasonal rhythms in my secret valley do not change. In the springtime, there is the vivid greens of the bursting buds of the maples. The forest floor is grandiosely carpeted by the delicate, and exquisitely beautiful white trillium. The forest becomes an air conditioned retreat on a hot summer day. Particularly after a rain, I loved that piquant, musky “earth smell” emanating the air, and stimulating my olfactory senses. A transformation takes place in the fall, as the leaves burst forth into vivid oranges, reds and yellows, before falling to a leafy death, that ushers in winter. The cool sereneness of winter. In winter the trees majestically stand bare naked. Appearing to be dead and lifeless, they wait, holding life in their silent presence, until once again in that seasonal rhythm, the bursting buds will again break forth.
In my secret valley, I would often sit down and lean my back against the majestic giants of the forest. There was strength just being in their presence, trees that have grown tall and strong through the ravages of storms. After 22 years these trees were my friend. The fertile, rich earth at their base has soaked up many tears over the years, when life becomes overwhelming, when I fail as a husband or a father, when I grieve the death of a loved one. Those majestic trees have “listened in” on many prayers, as I pray for others, or need direction in my own life. As I sometimes lean against these giant maples in silence, it was if these tress were holding me, as if through that “embrace”. After I would say goodbye and return back to my stresses and routines, I would return refreshed and renewed.
I was several weeks away from my secret valley this past fall due to an ankle injury, but knew it was very important to allow this injury to heal. When I eventually returned in early November, my heart was devastated. The forest that had been my refuge for the past 22 years, and had never changed, had been forested. The giants that had soaked up my tears, listened to my prayers, and “embraced” me, leaving me strengthened and renewed had been cut down. I followed the “trails” of the massive maple trunks that provided many a support for my back over the years. The trails were easy to follow because of the deep ruts left by the bush machines, until I came to a clearing. It was here the trees would have been loaded onto a lumber truck. It was my way of saying a final thank you goodbye. The treetop branches, that once provided oxygen for my lungs, and air conditioning on a hot, humid day, lay right where the tree landed, after filtering and giving out it’s final breath of oxygen.
The trunks of these once majestic trees, would end up at a sawmill, and end up for human use and enjoyment. The reality is that I eat off of a table made of wood, which comes from a tree. I wrote my rough draft of this blog on sheets of paper, which comes from a tree. We ALL use and enjoy products made of trees.
My secret valley at one time was part of a vast forested wilderness. European settlers arrived, and for the most part clear cut the vast forests, leaving small pockets like my secret valley. Some of this cleared land has continued to be farmed as agriculture to this day, but much of the land around where I live proved to be too sandy, and ended up being replanted as pine reforestation. The diversity of this original hardwood forest ecosystem has been forever lost.
Despite my sadness of the loss of the giant trees in my secret valley, I realize they were harvested using sustainable woodland management techniques. Younger trees will now have more room to grow, they will some day become the future giants. The forest will eventually heal of it’s scars and wounds, the ruts will fill in, and the tree top branches, now a lifeless grave lying on the forest floor will provide enrichment for the soil. The diversity of this beautiful ecosystem will continue.
Despite all we know about the irreversible damage done by clear cutting, it continues around the globe at an unprecedented rate. With the goal of making big profits, and keeping shareholders happy, corporate forestry giants are destroying through clear-cutting virgin forests, all for short term gain. Profits are made, because of our insatiable demand for wood and wood products. In this article called Global Deforestation, it mentions that “about half the forests that once covered the Earth are gone. Each year another 16 million hectares disappear” (10 million hectares of those are tropical rainforests).
Canada’s Boreal Forest, is one of the largest intact eco-systems left on our planet. In this link called Boreal Canada, it mentions “our forests store 208 billion tonnes of carbon. Naturally occurring eco-system services provided by the Boreal, such as carbon storage and water filtration are worth 2.5 times more than the value of extracting resources such as minerals and timber”. Yet more and more, it is becoming an eco-system in crisis. According to Greenpeace, only 8% of “Canada’s remaining intact forest is protected by legislation”.
So what can we do? What can I do? How can I make a difference?
1. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Do I really need that new dining room table? When we recycle our paper, not only are we saving trees, water pollution is lessened by 35%, and air pollution by 74% through the remanufacturing process.
2. Buy FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) approved products. This international regulatory body puts it’s slogan on products from manufacturers that obtains it’s wood from properly managed forests and not our virgin ancient forests.
3. Plant a tree. We may not see dividends in our lifetime, but it is like a “pay forward” for future generations. Particularly in light of all the natural resources we have taken from the earth over the past few generations. This link gives you Ten Reasons Living Trees are Valuable.
Thank you for taking the time for reading another long blog. Hoping you, and our future generations will always have that “Secret Valley” to go to, where our minds and spirits can become refreshed and renewed.