Tag: Forest

A Winter’s Tale.

No, not the Shakespeare version!

Shakespeare wrote The Winter’s Tale in 1623.  The title came to my mind following another tale written slightly more recently; just five days ago to be exact.

It’s a story published by George Monbiot that has a wonderful shape.  When I read it on Christmas Eve it seemed yet another story that Learning from Dogs readers would enjoy.  So, as ever, grateful for Mr. Monbiot’s permission to republish it.  His story is called Unearthed.



December 23, 2013

A winter’s tale of guns, gold and greed.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 24th December 2013.

Perhaps I should have been more careful. Last year I decided that every Christmas I would tell a winter’s tale or two(1). Through a long history of doing stupid things, I’ve accumulated a stock of ripping yarns. But I failed to explain myself. Some people interpreted the tale I told last Christmas as making a political point about Travellers I had no intention of suggesting; a point that is in fact the opposite of what I believe(2). So please read what follows as a story and no more: true to the best of my knowledge and memory but without a polemical purpose.

I was told this tale by a gold prospector in the garimpos of Roraima: the illegal mines exacavated among the river gravels in the forests of northern Brazil. He and his friends swore it was true. Though parts of the story must have been filled in later, in the light of what I had seen I found it easy to believe.

To say that the mines were lawless is not quite correct. They stood outside the laws of the state, but had established their own codes, which were informed by power and honour and greed and lust. Every week, thieves were taken into the forest to be shot. Duels were fought on the airstrips, in which men took ten paces, turned and fired: the miners circulated Wild West comics and acted out scenes that might once have been mythical, but there became horribly real.

To illustrate the point, before we get to the tale itself: one evening João, a remarkable man from the north-east of Brazil, who, after leaving home at 14 then spending ten years crossing and recrossing the Amazon on foot, had found work as a minder for two prostitutes, took me and his charges to a bar at the end of the airstrip village in which I was staying. The bar and the strip of dirt were owned by Zé, a man who spent some of his vast earnings on causing trouble: roaming around with his band of pistoleiros, starting fights and roughing people up. Zé, in whose house I was staying (by his choice, not mine) was said to have killed five men, starting with his business partner: by this means he had acquired control of the airstrip, and the extortionate fees for landing and leaving.

The bar was a flimsy shack in which a ghetto blaster was turned up so high that you could scarcely hear the music. Ragged men swayed and lurched and sprawled across the more sober prostitutes. On every table there was a bottle or two of white rum and a revolver. The men who had stayed in their seats drummed their fingers nervously on the tabletops, halfway between their drinks and their guns. The door was shoved open, and Zé and his thugs walked in.

His was at all times an arresting presence: charming, mercurial and terrifying. A machete scar ran from one cheek, over his nose and across the other cheek. He wore a sawn-off denim jacket and two revolvers on his belt. He opened his arms and announced, in a voice loud enough to carry above the music, that he would buy drinks for everyone. Zé moved through the bar, slapping backs and shaking hands, flashing his gold teeth. João’s eyes darted around, watching people’s hands. Bottles of cachaça were passed down from the bar.

Suddenly João shoved me so hard that I almost fell off my chair. He grabbed my arm, managing at the same time to seize the two prostitutes, and propelled us towards the door. As we hurtled out of the bar it erupted in gunfire. Amazingly, only one man was killed: he was dragged onto the airstrip with a hole the size of an apple in his chest. He was one of an estimated 1,700 people murdered, in a community of 40,000, in just six months.

So here’s the story. Two men established a small stake in the mines, in a remote valley some distance from the nearest airstrip. They cut down the trees and began to excavate. They found the digging and hosing and sifting of the gravel exceedingly hard and, though they had discovered very little, they decided to hire two other men to do it for them. They agreed to split any findings equally with the workers. The two hired men dug for four months without success: with high pressure hoses they scoured great pits into which the trees collapsed; they turned the clear waters of the forest stream they excavated red with clay and tailings; they winnowed the gravel through meshed boxes; they dissolved the residues in mercury and burnt it off; but they produced almost nothing. Then they hit one of the richest deposits ever discovered in Roraima: in one day they extracted four kilos.

If you find a lot of gold in the garimpos you keep quiet – very quiet. A single shout of triumph can amount to suicide. You gather it up, hide it in your bag and explain to anyone who asks on your way out that months of work have brought you nothing but disease and misery. But first it must be divided.

The two men who owned the stake began to comprehend, for the first time, the implications of the deal they had done. “We risked our lives to establish this stake. We spent every cent we had – and plenty we didn’t – travelling here, buying the equipment and the diesel, hacking out a clearing in the forest, hiring these men. And now we have to split the gold equally with people who are no more than manual labourers, who would normally be paid a few dollars a day.” They told the two workers that they wanted a special meal that night, and sent them to the nearest airstrip to buy the ingredients.

As the two workers walked they began to ruminate. “We’ve nearly killed ourselves in that pit. We’ve been up before dawn every day and have worked until dusk. We’ve had malaria, foot rot, screw worm, sunstroke, while those two bastards have done nothing but lie in their hammocks shouting instructions. Now we’re expected to give them an equal share of the gold that we and we alone found.” When they reached the store, they bought cachaça, rice, beans, a packet of seasoning and a box of rat poison. They mixed the poison into the seasoning and set off back to the camp. Before they reached it, they were ambushed by the two owners and shot. The owners then picked up the bags and went back to the camp to celebrate over the first hot dinner they had had in weeks.

Some time later a party of men moving through the forest to look for new stakes walked into the camp. They found two skeletons over which vines were already beginning to creep. And four kilos of gold.

www.monbiot. com


1. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/26/my-inner-anarchist-lost-out-bourgeois

2. http://www.monbiot.com/2013/01/10/as-it-happened/



Sing for the trees.

What can we do for the trees?

Winter sunlight filtering through the trees. Oregon, January 2013.
Winter sunlight filtering through the trees. Oregon, January 2013.

We don’t subscribe to television services here at home.  The only way I stay partially informed is via the BBC News website.  Thus it was a few days ago I saw the headline, “European forests near ‘carbon saturation point’”  This was a report by Mark Kinver, Environment reporter, BBC News.  It made me sit up and take notice.  For Mark Kinver wrote:

European forests are showing signs of reaching a saturation point as carbon sinks, a study has suggested.

Since 2005, the amount of atmospheric CO2 absorbed by the continent’s trees has been slowing, researchers reported.

Writing in Nature Climate Change, they said this was a result of a declining volume of trees, deforestation and the impact of natural disturbances.

Carbon sinks play a key role in the global carbon cycle and are promoted as a way to offset rising emissions.

Many of Europe’s forests are reaching an age where growth, and carbon uptake, slows down.

Writing in their paper, the scientists said the continent’s forests had been recovering in recent times after centuries of stock decline and deforestation.

The growth had also provided a “persistent carbon sink”, which was projected to continue for decades.

However, the team’s study observed three warnings that the carbon sink provided by Europe’s tree stands was nearing a saturation point.

It would be wrong to republish the full report but do go and read it here.  It contains much information, some of it counter-intuitive.  Such as Dr. Gert-Jan Nabuurs from Wageningen University and Research Centre, Netherlands saying of Europe’s forest;

“These forests have now reached 70-80 years old and are starting a phase in the life of a tree where the growth rate starts to come down,” he explained.

“So you have large areas of old forest and even if you add these relatively small areas of new forest, this does not compensate for the loss of growth rate in the old forests.”

The report includes the glaringly obvious, “However, mature woodlands have been recognised as a key habitat for supporting and conserving biodiversity.”!

The issue of knowing what is best for the wildlife, of all types and sizes, of balancing doing nothing to the forest or undertaking beneficial husbandry is one that is going to be in our minds here at home this coming Winter.

For much of our 13 acres is forest, as the following property map shows.

Assessor's Map 4000 Hugo Road.
Assessor’s Map 4000 Hugo Road.

When we first moved in to the house last October, the most common wild large creatures around were the deer.  The only way one could get close enough to take a photograph was when there wasn’t a dog in sight.  Even then, the slightest sudden sound or movement had a deer dashing into the forest.

Deer very cautiously meets new humans on the block!
Deer very cautiously meets new humans on the block! (Early November 2012)

Yet over the following weeks, the healthy grass made an irresistible Winter meal and the deer settled down to being regular visitors.  But always within a few leaps and bounds of the edge of the trees.

Nevertheless, the deer remained very cautious of feeding during the daytime as they soon became aware that without warning dogs could come rushing out from the house; as happened numerous times!  It seemed clear that having the forest close by enabled them to scatter as soon as the first bark was heard.

Months later, shown by this photograph taken early afternoon just a couple of weeks ago, these four wild deer still grazed close to the forest.

Wild deer feeding on the grass.
Wild deer feeding on the grass.

So this Autumn/Fall we shall be coming up with a plan to ensure that the forests on our property are reinvigorated to the best of our abilities.

Cities and forests; the outlook

Just a couple of items that came through my ‘in-box’ in recent times.

From the Payson Roundup newspaper of the 9th October, last.

Southwest forests are already in the early stages of a mega drought brought on by climate change.

Southwest forests are already in the early stages of a mega drought brought on by climate change that will result in massive tree die-offs and sweeping changes in Rim Country forests, according to an analysis published in the scientific journal Climate Change.

Severe drought will dominate much of this century, creating stresses on forests not seen for more than 1,000 years, according to the research that used tree ring samples from 13,000 trees, historical rainfall records and computer projections of future climate change.

The shifts will likely dramatically shrink the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest in northern Arizona, replacing pines with junipers at elevations like Payson and replacing junipers with chaparral and cactus at lower elevations.

The article concludes,

Unfortunately, the team’s climate prediction models suggest that within the next 40 years the region will fall deep into mega drought conditions. The models predict that even the wettest, coolest years in the late 21st century will exceed mega drought levels. In that case, the drought conditions of the past decade will prove the new normal rather than a bad stretch.

Williams noted that while winters in the past decade haven’t been exceptionally dry, summer temperatures have soared. As a result, the stress on the trees in the past 13 years has exceeded mega drought levels about 30 percent of the time — conditions not matched for the previous 1,000 years.

Now to a more positive message, this one from Climate Denial Crock of the Week for 10th October, 2012.

One of the clean little secrets about dealing with climate change, is that if we make our cities more efficient, and reduce their carbon footprint, we will also make them more resilient, quieter, more comfortable, more human scaled, more inviting,  and more fun.

For more on this story go to http://www.pbs.org/newshour/topic/climate-change/

As global temperatures rise, urban areas are facing challenges in keeping their infrastructure and their residents cool. Chicago is tackling that problem with a green design makeover. This report is part of our Coping with Climate Change series.