Yesterday’s post prompted some additional recollections from my mother. Sometime during their last fight to save the hollow from being clearcut back in the late 80s, my parents were meeting with the lumberman/owner of the neighboring property in a lawyer’s office in Tyrone (the town adjoining our mountain). Of all the loggers we’ve ever met, this guy was the hardest to come to an agreement with because he viewed his role as divinely ordained: God had put the trees there for Man to use. Forest trees are a crop that needs to be harvested — a not-uncommon view at industry-funded schools of forestry, by the way. He once told me and Dad on a walk through the woods: “These trees are overmature. They want to be cut!” (See my poem about the incident.)
So on this particular day, Dad had to go to work after the meeting, leaving Mom to walk up the hollow. She mentioned this by way of making small talk after the meeting — what a nice day it was for a walk. The lumberman was aghast. “You’re going to walk? Aren’t you afraid of trees falling on you?”
It was a very telling remark, and we couldn’t help wondering how many other loggers suffered from such extreme arborophobia.
Fear of trees isn’t restricted to those against whom the trees might legitimately harbor grudges, however. Not long after we moved in back in 1971, a farm woman in the valley — another neighbor — asked Mom if she wasn’t afraid to be surrounded by trees. “I’d be terrified to live up there. What would you do if there was a forest fire?” Some years later, a writer-friend of Mom’s from State College expressed the same fear, adding by way of explanation that she was claustrophobic.
Well, I can see that. Besides, anyone who watches television with any regularity would be familiar with the raging, canopy-height forest fires that occur annually in many parts of the west. Here in the east, in most forest types including ours, fire really isn’t much of an issue. What forest fires do occur tend to be low-key affairs that scorch a few acres and kill a few fire-intolerant trees (read: trees that are not oaks) before they burn themselves out. It’s only in recently logged-over areas where the dried-out ground is deep in discarded limbs and branches that true conflagrations can occur.
Fear of forests in general is of course pretty widespread — just think about how many horror movies are set in cabins in the woods. It’s not altogether irrational to be afraid of wild places if you don’t know what you’re doing, or if there are aggressive poisonous snakes or grizzly bears about. Our black bears and timber rattlers are pretty hard to piss off, but to the extent that such things keep fools and lumbermen at bay, we could stand to have a lot more of them.