Saturday, June 21, 2008

25 Years Later -- A Solstice Reflection

Happy Solstice! It's that time again -- summer in the States and winter in Brazil -- and I'm feeling a bit nostalgic remembering all the marvelous ceremonies and rituals honoring the forest and wild places that I have shared with so many friends across many years. Most were of a spiritual nature, but not all. Indeed, my own initiation to being a disciple of the forest began with a very political act.

Bald Mtn Blockade
Bald Mountain Blockade. An early group of "ecodefenders" (I'm 3rd from the left). Photo by David Cross.

It was 25 years ago last month -- in May 1983 -- that a group of activists sat in front of the bulldozers that were building a new road into the still wild regions of the Siskiyou National Forest in southern Oregon. Even though I was new to Oregon at that time -- I had recently arrived from Illinois -- my heart was captured and I had the great privilege of being part of the national movement to save the remnant Ancient Forests of the Pacific Northwest. Following those first "actions" in the woods I committed myself to the Bald Mountain Vigil and being the Siskiyou Project Storyteller.

I think I had the greatest job in the world. I actually got to camp in an old-growth forest paradise for 12 full summers, receiving visitors and maintaining a prayer circle atop the mountain.

Lou in Bald Mountain Prayer Circle
Bald Mountain prayer circle. Photo by Dan Dancer.

At the end of each summer I would come down from the mountain to travel around the country as the-hermit-with-the-most-frequent-flier-awards offering "Lessons From the Ancient Forest" and being the storyteller that I had always wanted to be, doing all this in order to recruit support for "the great standing ones."

The "Grandma-Grandpa tree" on Bald Mountain is one of the largest Douglas Firs in the Pacific Northwest. Photo by Barbara Ullian.

Looking back on it all now, my role as storyteller feels almost "too privileged." Those were rather heady times full of youthful courage that included both risks and excesses that the media loved to portray as the "war in the woods". The following video was put together and posted with a story on My Space by Andy Caffery .

1987 War in the Woods

As the struggles continued on the ground and in the trees, the locally-based Siskiyou Project began the tasks of building a network, reaching out to mainstream organizations and establishing a vibrant relationship with the scientific and university communities. Within a few years Jay Hair (who had made the highly critical comments in the above video) and led the powerful National Wildlife Federation had become one of our strongest allies. And so had other mainstream organizations such as the Wilderness Society and WWF. They were all promoting the cause of the Ancient Forest and helping us defenders of the Siskiyou gain access to the halls of Congress.

But there was truly much more. Although my slideshow had begun at first as storytelling about my own Bald Mountain experiences, it had grown into a sort of documentary about the incredibly rich and diverse Ancient Forest movement which had expanded across the country and inspired people in far and distant places. Saving the Ancient Forests quickly became a movement and a network beyond any particular voice -- a WE. I simply had the job of telling some parts of the story. Being a voice in this forest WE was one of the greatest privileges in my life.

The Siskiyou Project grew quickly and had many accomplishments -- you can read about some of its history here. By 2001 it had grown into quite a family.

Siskiyou Project & Friends 2001
bottom row: David Johns, Kelpie Wilson, Julie Norman, Shannon Cleary, Lou Gold, Sue Parrish, Lori Cooper, Linda Serrano, Dave Willis, Romain Cooper.
top row: Steve Marsden, Bob Litak, Marjorie Reynolds, Rich Nawa, Jim Gurley, Barry Snitkin, Erik Jules, Rolf Skar, Kindi Fahrnkopf, Barbara Ullian.

Everyone was important to the Project's successes but I'd like to acknowledge a special debt of gratitude to Marybeth Howell who networked my tour, to Kelpie Wilson who guided and developed the project through its formative years and to Dave Willis who used to send surprise CARE packages of cookies to sustain me on the road.

Nowadays, the Siskiyou Project has become two organizations:

The Siskiyou Field Institute (SFI) has happily announced the long-anticipated acquisition of the 870 acre Deer Creek Ranch near Selma, Oregon where, in partnership with Southern Oregon University, it is developing an exciting Education and Field Research Station.

The Siskiyou Project team has continued with its wonderful staff to advocate and innovate for the forests and streams of the region. Recently, it announced another kind of "radicalism" -- an experiment with stewardship in which previous protagonists -- loggers, restoration ecologists, forest defenders and public managers -- will come together to jointly manage a 2000 acre forest restoration project. Local journalist Paul Fattig -- who across the years wrote many "War in the Woods" articles -- has offered a new headline in the Medford Mail Tribune: Evolution in the Woods.

The most exciting recent news is that the Oregon Democratic Congressional delegation, under the leadership of Representative Peter DeFazio and Senator Ron Wyden, has introduced a series of new bills which would create new Wilderness Areas, expand the Oregon Caves National Monument and protect 143 miles of tributaries of the Rogue River.

There's an interesting side story here. Back in late 1995 there was a special election to fill the recently vacated Senate seat of Republican Bob Packwood who had been forced to resign as a result of a sexual harassment scandal. In an ill-considered move I entered the race as a candidate of the local green party. It turned out not to be a very good move -- the election was terribly close and if I actively campaigned there was the possibly that it could throw the election to the Republican who was no friend of the forest. But my name was already on the ballot so all I could do was to refuse to do any active campaigning. I still received some votes (about 7,000) but it was not enough to matter and Ron Wyden was narrowly elected.

Nevertheless, Wyden's Republican opponent Gordon Smith did manage to get elected to the other Oregon Senate seat a few years later. In recent years Smith has been a staunch supporter of the Bush agenda and a foe of forest protection. Meanwhile, Senator Wyden (as a result of the Democratic victories in the 2006 elections) has become chairman of the Senate committee that handles Wilderness bills where he has been facilitating the new protective legislation.

And only a few days ago he declared his opposition to any more logging of old-growth trees in Federal Forests. I'm sure that there's still a lot of negotiating over the details of a new forest plan -- especially so that it secures the younger forests which are the future old-growth -- but for now, all I can say is, GO FOR IT RON!

Meanwhile, you can really help move the new protections through the US Congress. Please use this easy form to send a Save the Wild Rogue! message to Congress. And please note -- you do not have to be a US citizen to support protecting these forests. They are a world-class treasure!

Hey, nothing more to say other than thanks for your support for the forests, and please continue to tune into the work and campaigns of the Siskiyou Project or any of the many grassroots organizations in the forest movement.

Happy Solstice.
Hug a tree and blessed be.

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