I was felling trees recently when I was unexpectedly smacked upside the head. No, not by a tree limb, but by a certain quote I have carried with me for a long time: Every creature must kill to survive. I could be mistaken, but I think Richard Dawkins said it in The Selfish Gene.
I was so affected by the quote due to a new-found admiration and respect for nature. I have not always paid attention to my environment, let alone to the natural world. (It is so easy to allow human-created things to occupy our attention, is it not?) Point is, I am like most people and need to actively train and practice to see, feel, and respect nature for what it is, rather than how it can serve me. So when I was felling trees and brought the quote to mind, I started to understand the intimacy of killing on a more guttural level.
Chainsawing responsibly is largely about 1) Keeping your focus on how you make your cuts, 2) The function of what you are cutting, and 3) What you are not cutting. If you are like me, you may not immediately acknowledge how responsible chainsawing is representative of enlightened and objective human engagements, so let us proceed one by one.
Keeping your focus on how you are making the cut, or what techniques you are using, keeps you in the moment and attuned to the unique characteristics of immediate reality. This seems so intuitive because I am talking about a mechanical activity that that could maim or kill you, but staying in the moment is as exclusive to chainsawing as walking is to using a treadmill. Staying in the moment while you are cutting not only makes you safer because you will have a better chance at predicting where the tree will fall, but it allows you to observe and judge yourself in that very moment. It is so easy to just blame the saw for a tree that did not fall where you wanted it to. Plus, many times in life we complain that we cannot see or understand our flaws until after we commit them, so practicing staying in the moment strengthens our ability to view and judge ourselves objectively, enabling us to be more competent and adaptive to unforeseen, undesirable variables. (If it is any argument that can convince the most amount of people to become more objective, it is that objectivity allows one to reasonably predict and prevent unforeseen, undesirable variables.)
Second, we have the function of what we are cutting. Are the limbs and branches just going to get thrown away to rot? If so, why can we not find some kind of use for them? This is a sibling argument of: We are bored because we are boring. If we deconstruct something without at least some kind of working idea for what to do with the deconstructed parts, then it is a strong possibility that we are not searching and thinking hard enough. I am not saying that every little thing we do in life will create recyclable and highly functional byproducts; there is a valid reason the word waste is in our vernacular. But sometimes our byproducts can have wildly effective functions, and all we need to do is open our minds to the myriad possibilities. The whole point is that we do not need to physically engage or get the short-term or long-term benefit of the byproducts we create for them to exist. Thinking such would make us terribly human-centric. Knowing the specific function of what we cut, and the reasoned-out premise why we are doing it will allow us to make cuts in proportion, and not be standing in front of a deforested field at the end of the day asking ourselves, "How did I wind up doing all that?"
Third, if we look at what we are not cutting we can better understand what we are cutting. This is all about categories and judgment: Why this instead of that? How is this different than that? How are these alike? If they are alike, then why did I bypass those trees over there? Intellectually understanding what we are not cutting helps us better understand our overall purview because it makes us think and feel with more breadth, and hold ourselves accountable. Nowadays, it is common to hear Do the Right Thing and Be Respectful as well as many other canned ethical mantras, but when you get down to the nitty gritty, an adaptable, informed morality (and ethics) involves actively comparing and contrasting what you choose to and not to engage, then judging your methods and motivations. Again, it is about understanding the breadth of how, why, and what comprises our attention. Yes, attention is superficial, though what we choose to keep ourselves attended toward are what we find of value. And if we find that the only things that keep our attention are 1) Those that are immediately in front of us, and 2) Those specifically of benefit to us, we are by default users, and will most likely find ourselves standing in front of that deforested field at some point in our lives.
How can I draw general arguments about life from the physical activity of chainsawing? Well, because chainsawing is an excellent microcosm for how we will act if we can immediately produce effects. In other words, in a few minutes we can fell a fifty-year old tree. In a matter of hours we can raze a field. So if we do not keep a clear perspective--both short-term and long-term--then we can affect or even destroy a whole lot, quickly. The question becomes: What is your personal chainsaw-perspective? If you had a tool that could so quickly and efficiently change the physical landscape according to your whim, what would you do? Yes, this question transcends the physical act of chainsawing and applies to our power-orientation with other people and natural objects. If you could change others right now, would you? If so, what would you change? Be honest, then judge yourself, because you cannot change your thoughts, beliefs and methods without candid self-judgment.
This is why the statement Every creature must kill to survive resonated so deeply within me. I knew exactly why we were cutting each tree we were cutting, why we were leaving the ones we were not, and why we were so diligently stacking the wood. We made informed, balanced choices. Plus, our cuts would allow the undergrowth to proliferate, as it had done so quickly after cutting sessions years-past. This undergrowth is never far from our purview, and actually quite often becomes the center of landscaping conversations due to it's impressive proliferation. The same goes with life: The easily bypassed things in our worlds will spring to life if we deliberately and prudently sculpt the things that occupy a more convenient and direct eye-line. We just need to operate with more breadth, or more objectively. (Once again, objective is nowhere close to sharing a meaning with robotic, regardless of how many people think so.)
No matter what course of action we take, if we are to survive, something must die to sustain us. It is up to us to understand and bring into proportion what dies and how extensively the wake of death we leave is, so that we may survive well, as may the nature that brought us into this world.
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