Summer Solstice reflections

I try to spend June 21, the summer solstice, “in the outdoors” somewhere as a celebration of life on Planet Earth and managed to do so this year, albeit part of it traversing a 4-year old clearcut with a friend. Then we reached some of the remnant forest on a steep slope bordering a stream which disappeared belowground and reappeared at intervals, sometimes expanding into a small wetland. It was a mixed Acadian forest, with yellow birch, red maple, hemlock and red spruce up to 2+ ft dbh (diameter at breast height).

The air was cool, and the ambiance tranquil, in marked contrast to the clearcut we had just stepped out of. I was most struck by the intimate proximity of a large diameter yellow birch and a smaller hemlock which are often occur close together, but this was exceptional. An Acadian Forest Love Affair, I thought.

We had counted the rings of a half dozen large stumps in the clearcut; all were in the vicinity of 100 years. My friend’s father had harvested in the area 50 years ago, selectively. Now the land stands exposed, but with an abundance of seedlings of both early and late successional species, a witness to the tremendous regenerative capacity of the Acadian forest.

How long will that regenerative capacity last under repeated clearcuts on 40-60 year rotations? It’s quite predictable that later successional species will become less and less frequent simply because they only start producing seed at 40+ years, and they reach their optima for seed production perhaps 30 years later. But there are many other factors that are negatively affected by clearcutting, some of which we are just beginning to understand, such as the belowground mycorrhizal networks that allow trees to “talk to each other“.

As we returned and again crossed the clearcut my friend and I were simply sad about what we saw. We regretted mostly that current and future generations are growing up in a land where the tranquil places like that we just visited and that we grew up with are, for most, no longer nearby and are becoming ever scarcer.

My repeated thought when I have such feelings or hear others voice similar reactions to clearcuts (or to any ill-conceived development that destroys natural habitat) is that such feelings give us (in my case referring to a descendent of the first European settlers) some sense of how indigenous peoples felt when the first immigrants ravaged their lands, when they were forced to leave their lands in the 1940s under the Centralization Policy, and as they continue to feel as they fight for the integrity of Wsitqamu’k in so many ways, for all of us. It seemed an appropriate thought on the Summer Solstice, now our National Indigenous Peoples Day.

I realized later that was one year old on the same day.

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