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  • Writer's pictureMetta

Depth of Truth

I went to a stand of old-growth Red Wood trees. They were so tall. I saw scar marks from fire, likely more than 150 years ago. The Coastal Miwok (yes they are still here and are a part of the Federated Indians of Graton Ranchiera) did prescribed burning. This is a kind of protective burn in specific areas that supports the health of the forest and also reduces the risk of catastrophic fires.

Here in this forest I was amid these gentle-giant trees, listening to a cold flowing creek. Water was everywhere, from drizzle to creek to dripping branches. The green under-story of plants including ferns was an intense yellow-green in contrast to the red-orange-brown of the tree trunks and forest floor. A coyote appeared and passed by, eventually disappearing silently back into the woods. There are animals and plants that only live within the ecosystem of old-growth forests. And there is uncertainty: once an old-growth forest is cleared it is not certain what can come back, if the original form will ever be brought back.

These trees are unbelievably old. The average age of redwoods in this location are between 600 and 800 years old. The oldest tree is at least 1,200 years old. This is still young for redwoods as they can live up to 2,200 years of age. These trees, and all the trees like them existing and now gone through those who tore them down, are sacred elders.

This was once so much of Northern California. Since logging began in the 1850s, 95 percent of the Redwoods of California have been cut down. Chills ran over me as I stood amid the echoes of what was lost and the memories of the indigenous ancestors that had lived here. A friend told me that the structure of their home was built from Redwoods. The Oakland hills used to be full of them.

This is a reflection still being hammered out. This is a reflection where I am still learning and digging deeper. I have so much to learn about the old-growth forests of California, and the complexity between the use and harm of California wilds, and harm to indigenous people. As well as learning what movements have saved parts of what remains of the California wilds, and what work people are doing right now to try to reclaim what has been lost. But I’m posting this reflection because it’s a story of my chipping away to get to the truths - the complicated mess that are the truths. I say truths rather than truth, because the narrative is complicated and there are multiple important aspects of what happened and what is happening existing all at once in this. There are things that are really bad, neutral, and good, and they don’t exist linearly, and overlap with other things.

Just as I am relieved that this stand of Redwood are still standing, full of gratitude that someone saved this forest, I am also devastated by how much Redwood forests have been logged. I feel upset by how saving pieces of nature through conservation movements can be just generating a park from what should be a vast connected and ecosystem that ultimately needs vast space to function as it evolved. It can render what should be seen as critical systems of life becoming just a tourist stop and conservation as window dressing, and further reinforcing a notion of human control of the Earth. Further, with the nature of racism, these spaces often become a White-dominated space for those with economic privilege. My human life completely depends on the Earth, and depends on the Earth being in balance. The air, the water, the land, all the insects, birds, amphibians, mammals, and more - it is a deep interconnected web and we are on the edge of a cliff in terms of climate change. I feel the fear of what climate change could do to these ecosystems like the Red Woods, the fear of losing what remains to climate change. I am also disturbed that the Redwoods national monument is named for John Muir. He founded the Sierra Club and is known for his conservationist and environmentalist writings which created awareness of not destroying all of the ecology of the western U.S.. But he also believed in the concept of nature without humans within it, and was extremely racist towards indigenous people. He believed in the notion of “empty” wilderness, a place one visits. I feel devastated that the original stewards of the land were so harmed.

As this grows, I know I’ll get various pieces not quite right. But the reason for this digging? Getting to the uncomfortable truths. Digging into these truths feels like falling, there is no bottom. Bearing witness is very important. The truth is painful but it is undoing the patterns of greed, hate and delusion that get in the way of my being aware enough to advocate for healing. How can there be healing if there is not real acknowledgment of what has actually happened? Choosing a path forward must be done with an intersectional lens, taking into account history and realities, particularly of those that have been ignored and harmed by White and industry dominated systems of greed and power.

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