The ancient Celts spoke of “thin places” in nature – places where the veil between heaven and earth is worn thin.
To those with Thomas Cole taste, “thin” could be synonymous with opulent: sepiatoned thunderheads right out of the Old Testament rolling ominously and gorgeously toward the summit of Katahdin; or brilliant autumn foliage on a postcard sugar maple, the flaming leaves a fanciful evocation of the burning bush in the Christian Bible. Others with a humbler aesthetic (and a less biblical view of nature) may find thin to be better represented by familiar scenes like the one on our cover. If you’re a deer hunter, you’ve been on some version of this cobble in November before – you’ve seen the Bruce spanworm moths fluttering, ghostly, through the near distance, you’ve felt the bedrock, as seemingly old as time, hard and unflinching beneath you. Add a morning’s worth of silent contemplation and a lifetime’s worth of ghosts – both human and animal – and the simple scene becomes a rather complicated juxtaposition of the temporal and the eternal. The ridgetop becomes thin then, not in a rub-your-face-in-it Chartres Cathedral way, but in an older, baser way – the way that caused humankind to be drawn to spirituality, to faith, in the first place. There’s nothing evangelical in this idea, no notion of good and evil, saved and unsaved. Just the organic truth that if you don’t put something bigger in the picture – the frost-crushed landscape, the deer blood on your hands – that cold, November wind is going to take off with your soul.
Because natural places can seem sacred to us, we often find ourselves at odds over how to worship them. Like any holy ground, the forest ignites our passions – both rational and irrational. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the biomass debate that has taken the state of Massachusetts by storm. Wade through the hyperbole and misinformation that’s confusing matters and you’ll find that the opposing points of view boil down to this: parties skeptical of biomass are concerned about its green credentials, and they’re concerned that there are not enough trees in the forest to feed this burgeoning industry. Biomass proponents think these fears are ill-founded and see biomass as a carbon-friendly, job-creating, money-saving, forest-improving boon for our region. Several recent high-profile reports have attempted to set the record straight on biomass, and like all scientific reports, the good information they contain is delivered in phone book-quality prose. We filled the front seat of associate editor Chuck Wooster’s pickup with these reports, then asked him to read them, digest them, talk to the people who wrote them, and tell us: Is biomass green? Is there enough wood to go around? What’s the most efficient use of the medium? We hope that the fruits of Chuck’s labor will provide context for our readers as they seek to understand the biomass headlines in their local newspapers.
Capital F forest management is also the focus of two other feature stories this issue: a piece on woodcock habitat by Charles Fergus and a piece on controlling native invasive species by Irwin Post. In the woodcock piece, Fergus brings us up to speed on the ecology of this unusual little bird, and then details the forest management work that people are doing to help stabilize its plummeting population. In “Got Fern?” Post takes us out to his woodlot and gives us a look at his tried and true methods of controlling native invasive plants.
There are those who would suggest that the best way to worship the natural places we find holy is through strict preservation – the forest as a temple untouched by the hands of man. But this approach leaves no room for creativity, for ingenuity, for a means to address human needs. As Einstein famously pointed out, science without religion is lame, but religion without science is blind. The goal we’re all chasing is a balanced version of forestry that’s expansive enough for both science and a sense of the sacred.