The greening of the Pontiac has happened.
The woodlands, so shriveled and tinder-dry the week of August 6th, are now showing signs of rebirth.
That week, friends of mine joined me at our cabin at Green Lake, north of Waltham. The lake is part of the Black River system and the family cottage was built on Lac Vert’s shores in 1966. That’s a lot of summers; a lot of happy memories.
… And a lot of enjoyment of the bush.
So it was with some deeply felt concern that my friends and I saw how parched the woodlands were. Leaves of the striped maple tree outside the cabin door draped wanly in the dry, still air. Ferns conserved moisture by curling their fronds, almost completely in half so they resembled tightly clenched fists.
And the forest floor was like tinder.
Therefore, it was particularly distressing to see several burned matchbooks simply lying on the ground, actually on the road allowance, in layers of pine needles and last-year’s leaves.
How did they get there? Did someone deliberately set fire to them, just for fun? It looked like it..
What a stupid prank, to light a box of matches, watch them burn, then toss them on the ground.
And onto such a tinder-box woodland floor.
So it is with some relief that I saw this week’s rainfall. Not only do our crops desperately need moisture. Not only does the aquifer require whatever replenishing it can get (though this rainfall is by no means enough to refill the dry wells and diminishing water table).
We also need the rain to protect the forest. From childish human pranks and carelessness.
How ironic that we human beings, who think we have a right to do this and that with Nature, also have the ability to be so profoundly stupid.
Such stupidity is beyond understanding, to me. How can we be so arrogant? How can we think that setting fire to 7 boxes of matches and then throwing them into the bush would be “good fun”?
We have to take responsibility for the forest. We must cease to look upon it as our playground. We must cease to regard it simply in economic terms.
The forest not only sustains our souls while we enjoy our summers lazing by the lakefront. These woods are home to the wildlife that some of you want to hunt: bear, deer and grouse find their homes here.
And the forest shelters the embankments of watersheds, creates refuges for nesting birds through to river otters, raccoons and other fauna of the woods.
Why is it that we are so careless with our natural legacy? Why is it that some of us literally play with fire? Why is it that columns such as this need to be written, to remind us to be cautious with our natural world, in which we all live?
You tell me, for human nature constantly challenges and mystifies me.
Remember the days of your childhood? Remember your mother and father telling you not to play with fire?
Have you told your kids this recently? If you are a smoker, are you taking extra precautions in the woods these days? Are you tossing your cigarettes out on the road, by any chance? Think again… Think long and hard about the consequences of a burned landscape.
Imagine it: stark black trunks, bloated carcasses of animals smothered by smoke, burned by the fire.
Yes, forest fires do positive things for the environment. Seeds from some trees only germinate after the heat of a fire. And, in order to create habitats for young growth forest with its new succession of vegetation, fires were deliberately set by First Nations peoples in North America. Today, parks officials often deliberately set fires in a systematic, controlled manner, so as to maintain bio-diversity in forests.
So, fire can be a good thing… in certain, knowledgeable hands.
But it is not a good thing, in any sense, to play with fire.
“Teach. Teach your children well.” Lyrics from Crosby, Stills and Nash still resonate… perhaps through the whisper of leaves in the woods.
Keep our forests green. Enjoy the sound of the rainfall in the woods, through the layers of leaves. Enjoy the scent of moist earth and admire the raindrop on a smooth, green maple leaf.
Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer who telecommutes from her home near Quyon, Québec.