Thursday, August 27, 2015

When the Mighty Fall

I'm standing at the back window watching a forest die.  This is the fourth day I have awakened at grainy daylight to the noise of death.

You'd think it would be quieter.  But in our modern age, trees don't fall one by one, axe slowly dropping the mighty to their knees.  In our world, they fall by the thousands, cold machines felling in a single hour what once took a team of men from sunrise to sunset on a single day.

Have you thought of how much death can happen with just the flick of a switch? The push of a button? A single word?

 The posting of a single stolen data file?

In a fully mechanized, electronically connected world like ours, the slice of death can come in an instant, leveling hundreds, thousands of trees...and by late afternoon, everybody will know it.

Even in my sorrow, I must bow my head in awe to the seamless mechanized dance playing out before me.  The music starts and steel claws grab the giraffe-like trunk while the ever-whirling saw blade edges forward and separates the body from life-giving roots.

You would think that would be it.  Dance over.  But even when the blade has retracted, when that thin line between life and death has been breached, still, the tree doesn't fall.

For a few seconds, it is held in place by the giant hand with its death grip, the trunk still standing just as tall as if it has somehow managed to avoid the unavoidable, as if of all the trees in the forest, it, alone, has managed to escape this invincible power that has swept great and small from the landscape.

And then as all creation seems to hold its breath in pause, the operator pushes a lever and the machine dances backwards in a circle away from a newly-exposed stump, mighty trunk still towering in hand, spinning left then right as if in a waltz graceful across the forest floor towards the pile of others who were lay to earth only moments before.
The music continues onward as if there are still more steps to be remembered, and indeed there are, but the hand lets go of its partner, and this tree, too, falls with a swoosh of pine needles and an audible thump as it comes to rest with the other fallen. The dance, though, does not stop; the machine simply turns its back and grabs the next partner it finds to repeat this never-ending waltz.

In the digital age, the death of even one tree echoes across the land, across the world.  But a forest?  A forest does not go gently....a forest does not go quietly.

The sounds reverberate from sunup and sundown. Yet, even after death has stopped for the day? Sometimes, I catch myself thinking I hear it again.  Even in the silence of an inky, moonless night, my head flies upwards in surprise every now and then, the four-day-old sound of death now so familiar to me that I hear it even when it is not there--the slice of the blade, the grinding resistance of pulpy flesh, the limbs scraping downwards, the heavy beat of finality in the dirt.

In those moments, I long will it take me before I don't hear this song anymore? 

How many mornings and evenings before it, too, dies in a memory prone to forgetfulness?

Today, the fallen nearest my home still lay where they fell, each trunk's rings exposed for all to see, their formerly-hidden life stories printed in alternating black and white, stories the curious, the vindictive, the judgmental, the proud clamor to read.

I refuse to read their rings, the little bit of knowledge I have glimpsed through the barbed wire fence already too sorrowful for me to bear.

The waltz plays on, but these fallen lay silently waiting for the coroner to pronounce their death and truck them away where they will be stripped, shredded, ground into a mere shadow of their former selves before finding new life in a new purpose...the smaller ones, though, I fear will be left to rot back into the dust from whence they came, never again finding new life...never finding redemption or restoration.

I mourn.  Not just for the trees, though.  Their names may be the ones that come to my lips, but I have no idea the throngs that have been affected in the past four many still will be affected by their deaths in the days to come.  The death of a forest displaces a host of both the gentle and the strong, the predator and the prey.

I look for signs of life, but there are none.  I wonder how many escaped during the night to try and find protection elsewhere.  How many died along with the fallen trees? How many are among the living dead, in total shock from the destruction of everything around them, still hiding beneath the fallen branches in hopes that if they just wait long enough, everything will be as it once was?  

But it won't be.  It will never be just as it was.  

Even if our neighbor replanted seedlings today...even if every single one grew into a strong sapling... Still..still, it would be 20 years before that new forest grew up healthy and strong enough to provide shelter and sustenance for all who had been laid bare and exposed by the loss of the fallen. 

I'm not the only one mourning for a forest today, multiple generations of trees cut off and laid on the ground, their rings exposed for all to see.

We will continue to feel their loss.  Our children will feel their loss.

Like those towering trunks lay before me, I, too, fall.

On my knees, face to the earth, I cry and beg the Lord for repentance. for forgiveness. for mercy. for restoration.

 Please, Father.  For the sake of this generation and the generations to us from ourselves.