THE EAGLES FLEW OVER
Two eagles soar over the little town of Wheeler. Down below the Nehalem River is swollen and muddy. In the distance is the roar of the ocean gone wild. Cars move slowly down 101; drivers looking straight ahead, do not see the eagles. Above the town are clear cut hills—except for one patch. This is where the eagles live. From there comes the sound of heavy equipment and trees falling. A few miles South, a hillside has been “condemned” because of mud slides. One could say it is in “recovery.”
Down below the eagles, a line of people a block long look up and cheer. They are holding signs that speak of their concern: “Do not clear cut the last remaining forest above Wheeler”; “Trees give us clean air”; “Trees hold the earth”; Forests give homes to the animals and birds”; “Toxic chemicals poison the earth, the water, the people”; “Clear cuts destroy the forest”…The people choose to believe that the eagles are blessing them as they stand here on this stormy day protesting a logging operation already underway in the forest where the eagles live. These are people who live and work here on the Oregon Coast in towns where the drinking water has been compromised, where the creeks and rivers run brown with silt, where the salmon are diminishing and the forests disappearing.
That’s me down there, leaning on a walking stick, teetering on the edge of the curb, white hair blowing in the wind. I will be 85 in a few days. My grandparents homesteaded in Oregon. Our family carries the memory of old growth forests, the rivers alive with salmon, the wildness and beauty that used to be. For 30 years I have lived in this valley watching the clear cuts happen above and around me; watching the stream I live near run turbulent and muddy, eroding the banks and flushing trees and silt downstream to the river.
A few blocks down—on the other side of the highway—a group of people stand in support of the loggers. They, too, live here. They fear the loss of jobs and income. Some come from families that have long been loggers in a state that has been known for its vast forests that seemed to go on forever.
Now Oregon is known as the clear cut state with the weakest protections for the waters and forests of any state on the West Coast. For a moment, a ray of sun breaks through the clouds and we look up to absorb the warmth. And I wonder what I would say if someone from “the other side” were standing next to me, both of us feeling so strongly that we have come to stand here on this stormy day. It is not about the right to log. We will always need and value wood products. It is about the way we choose to treat what we call a re-source. The word assumes it will regenerate, and the earth does have incredible powers of regeneration. When everything is taken from the hills, however, and toxic spray applied to kill the undergrowth, and the intricate system of plants and fungi, trees may be replanted, but the forest is destroyed.
What we see around us in this watershed are the consequences of our actions—just as the planet is now unbalanced by the impact of our choices. At the center of this crisis is an amazing “invention” called a tree which we now know has the ability to clean the air, hold the soil, filter the water, and cool the planet. Perhaps I could just ask the question: Can we find a way to take what we need without destroying that which gives us life?