Unrest in the Forest

“There is unrest in the forest

There is trouble with the trees

For the maples want more sunlight

And the oaks ignore their pleas.”

Brian* has been driving me a little nuts lately humming this Rush tune.  The ballad goes on, neither side giving ground, and the whole forest has a bad end.  We had an extensive ideological discussion (e.g. Did Neil Peart compose this song with Ayn Rand’s philosophy in mind?).  Kind of a tough way to wake up on a Sunday morning.   My take-away: these lyrics illustrate dysfunctional community.

Luckily, the Big-Leaf and Vine Maples get along fine with the Garry Oaks at Tadpole Haven.  Actual native plant communities change and grow relatively harmoniously, adapting to disruption and allowing for natural succession.  In the forest near the nursery, Western Hemlock, the most common large tree, shares the limelight with Sitka Spruce on the wetter north edge and Western Redcedar and Douglas Fir on the drier southern edge.  Underneath grow a wide variety of shrubs and small trees.  Even in the wettest areas, Salal and Red Huckleberry thrive up on hummocks and stumps next to Cascara and Oval-leaved Huckleberry, plants that love the wet.  This “plant” community is of course part of a larger community of life – home to amphibians, hawks, pileated woodpeckers, squirrels, bobcat and coyote.

Communities function properly only if each member helps the other members meet their needs.  A forest is a beautiful example – from the fungi that enhance the tree roots’ ability to absorb nutrients to the old hemlock snag that harbors insects that the woodpecker feeds on.

Humans are part of our forest’s community also.  It has been logged at least twice.  My cousin harvests firewood.  I gather seeds and cuttings.  My children and nieces keep a trail open for us.  The road along the southern edge and hundreds of daily commuters are also part of this forest community.  Most of the commuters are oblivious to the forest community they are part of, but they still affect it and are affected by it.

Humans are part of communities of nature.  One way humans help communities function better is by planting native plants.  Even a small-scale plant community in a backyard builds ecological health and resilience.  Native plants provide services such as filtering runoff from roofs and roads and shading and cooling rivulets and streams, which keeps oxygen levels high for fish and other aquatic animals.  They provide homes for pollinating insects valuable to agriculture.  They provide habitat for wildlife and birds.  Less tangible are the spiritual benefits; a patch of native plants in an urban area is an oasis apart from concrete and lights, for example.

Speaking of community, the election ends today.  Hopefully, all our government officials will now act like members of a forest community and work for the common good.  As for me, after a few days allotted for wound-licking and/or gloating, I will again enjoy the company of friends and relatives I’ve been avoiding during this “silly season”.  I will TRY to be a good community member, accommodating others’ needs and quirks ;).


*Brian Bodenbach,owner of Biosphere Landscape Company