Silk road

To live in the woods, even for forty years, is to be outnumbered. You learn a kind of patience. When we first moved here as kids, we started a natural history museum in the shed, but after a while it began to seem redundant. Now, I only collect leaves that have been skeletonized by insects, the remaining veins as delicate as lace.


What do you picture when you hear the word jinx? I see an ordinary tree – an ash, for instance. Something almost human, yet immune to grief & capable of sex only by proxy – through the wind, for instance, or some six-legged go-between. The pioneers went after trees with a fury, felling far more than they needed just to keep the darkness at bay. A century ago, during the Appalachian lumber boom, trees too massive for the sawmills to handle were blown apart by dynamite & left to rot.


Trees were cut down because they were not people. Wolves were shot because they were not dogs.


When the wind rustles in the trees, said the Delaware Indian orator to the governor of Pennsylvania, we fear not. The phrase silk road probably meant nothing to him, yet it had so much to do with how Europeans came to be here, putting their names on the forest. Leave one acre of trees, William Penn had decreed, for every five acres cleared, especially to preserve oak and mulberries, for silk and shipping.


I remember where the bee tree stood, how it hummed when you thumped on it. A big black locust with a few, scruffy branches still living. One summer night, the bears came & climbed it & ripped it open.

I remember bushwhacking to the base of a huge oak on the side of a ravine, a regular pilgrimage in my early teens. You had to pass through a grapevine anteroom, crawling on hands & knees.

I remember when the gypsy moth caterpillars – refugees from a long-ago, failed experiment to breed a more voracious silkworm – first ballooned in on their streamers of silk, following the ridgelines down the Appalachians, killing the oaks.


The catalog for Victoria’s Secret is printed on paper made in part from the mixed mesophytic forest of the southern Appalachians – the richest temperate forest on earth. What the hell is so special about silk, that bare skin isn’t enough?


I can show you a rotting hulk encrusted with lichens, half-hidden in ferns. I still feel the absence of that dark trunk, its portion of silence, that map of open veins against the sky.


Please consider supporting the campaign against Victoria’s Secret: here’s how. You can still shop at VS; simply buy on-line – and send a fax to the CEO. (But remember – organic cotton is way sexier!)

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