Quaker Community Forest

Our connection to the earth, to nature, to Gaia, is a spiritual issue. Let us draw together, in our communities of faith, aiming to restore the earth.

By 1999 about 100 households in the Northern Yearly Meeting of Quakers have expressed an interest in a Quaker Community Forest. We had a mailing list and eventually a website. That’s all gone now, although there are still glowing coals in the hearts of some, and the salvaged shards of the website here.

Things got started in 1998 when Ralph Jacobson enunciated his vision for a QCF, which he had developed, with his partner Cynthia Bartoo, over years of effort on their rural land, which we now call Sandhill. More on that on a page near this one. Here I want to give the over-all vision. A poem I wrote in 1999, which received the warm endorsement of all those closely involved, as expressing our shared vision.

View from the Cathedral

The sunlight slants through the tall trees, filtering to dapples on the forest floor.
Now is the Pacific’s time for noonday basking.
Here, the sun is low enough to set our western lake winking at me through the trees.

I walk among beings planted four centuries before my birth
Which I in turn have tended, since childhood’s play
Fifty years ago.

This stand,
Our current cathedral,
Is part of The Ring, around
The Center.
The Center is untouched for three centuries now, and comparatively untrod, entered only with ritual dispensation.
A place of awe and dread.
Home of more than we know.
Many beings there still bend and groan with the weight of their elders, blown upon them in the “Hundred-Year Winds” of seventy-five,
No eighty,
Years ago.

In
The Center
We do not intervene.
We mourn
We accept.
We celebrate.
Blessed be.”

Here it is different.
In
The Ring
Trees receive our reverent care. We encourage them, in our human way, to flourish in full magnificence.
In groves, pairs and in splendid isolation
Trees in this portion of our forest reflect the multitude possibilities of their fullness
As much as possible, within the context of our intermittent care and the underlying realities of soil and slope, climate and weather.

We are “Tree People.” They are “People Trees.”

Walking here now,
And always, when I am not too loaded with my own distractions,
I feel the presence of the Divine
In me. In us all.
In our shared existence, our shared work.
Some of these we will harvest
If they request.
If, like me, they wish to go at
Just Past Prime,”
We’ll fell them in their season,
Draw them out
And carve them into beams and planks fit
For cathedrals
Or season them to masts for tall ships,
Or sonorous instruments.
Glories to their accomplished lives, testimony to their inherent beauty.

Others
Seem always to have insisted on being “survivors,” and shall remain so.
We will follow them to their last leaf.
And beyond, visiting and touching their arching skeletons
Learning from their ravaged remains
Celebrating return of their flesh to earth
Making way for, and rising again in, seedlings.

The Ring
Marches clockwise ‘round The Center.
In a progress we guess to be about eight hundred years.
This generation’s Cathedral is at the procession’s head.
Immediately behind, strong groves, receiving our loving attention,
Trimming and culling, we work as grooms for the cathedral of our great grandchildren.
Ahead of “My Cathedral” in the Ring
Low growth, tangles of berry bushes, shrub and scrub, setting off the scattered “survivors,” teeming with grouse, fox and deer.
Here there is access
Even for the infirm, to this generation’s Cathedral Forest.
And, further still, clockwise round The Ring
Are the future forests
The nearest, only about my height, at present
Planted by our children.

Beyond The Ring lies
The Outer Circle, where the most engaging of our shared work takes place.
Here, more sturdy stock
Cathedral Quality,
Is tended with less attention to exalted “treeness”
And more to robust and productive forests
Teeming with all the elements of a vital ecosystem
We know how to encourage.

Though the trees of the outer Circle
(And the mushrooms and other forest goodies)
Are every bit as sacred as these within The Ring
And though our work there seeks equally to divine the transcendent plan,
Yet the balance is different.
What’s crucial is recognizing that the difference is a matter of degree.
While those trees are touched by market forces
Or may be harvested in response to a call for
Disaster aid in a distant floodplain
The underlying unities remain:
We are all essential ingredients in a sustainable ecosystem,
Symbiotically linked to each other
And to the entire biosphere.

Our products and our philosophy go out
Into the marketplace of ideas and things.
We keep the two connected
In witness to the unities, the Truth as we currently understand it and try to bring it forth.
And we receive from the larger world valuable things and thoughts
Without which our shared lives would be
too simple.

Beyond the Outer Circle we have The Fields and Farms.
The pace is faster here, youthful,
At times expedient, opportunistic.
If land comes up for sale at a time when cash flow is good, we buy.
Here, we are willing to take advantage of what’s “in.”
Biomass
Wheat grass.
Pulp for paper.
Orchards
Trees in rows.
When the economy takes a dive
Or the world genuinely needs more cropland
We rent
Or sell.
The Farm.

Not the Circle, Ring or Center.
These we hold,
To death and beyond
In sacred trust.

And we witness
To the unity that pervades it all,
From the “deals” we make in the market place
To the pilgrimages we make to The Center sometimes
On the death of a parent
Or a child.

For we are all bits in the Unity
Of Life on Earth.
What transpires in the forest
Mingles with and supports
Life in the seas.
We are all bits of the Unity
Striving, growing
Shadowed by the presence of others to our detriment
And sheltered by the presence of others
A boon.
We reach out
To mingle and embrace
With that which we know and treasure
And with that still beyond our ken.

I turn toward the lake and make my way back to the access point.
As I step beyond the trees, squinting
I can see in the distance
The dark collective rise of the groves we planted when I was a teen.
Some of my friends then
Are far away now
But we are united across time and space by this land
And by our experience of tending it
And the experience of being tended ourselves in the act of nourishing
The continuity of life that will extend well beyond our own.

None of us live in The Circle or The Ring
And yet here is planted
Our taproot
Our primary connection
To the web of life.

Another Poem

A couple of years later I wrote again about a culture that relies on trees to help them understand the long view, spanning generations.

Our Story Forest

We are a community living with the land.
Our young thrive, mostly
Some are stillborn.
We remember.

Oh, the years fly by,
Little ones grown
With children of their own.
Soon I will die.

Tomorrow my sister and I will visit the story forest.
I want to see the tree that was planted for me
When I was two.
It’s just my age.
Tall now, its soaring canopy touches my sister’s.
She and I will go on
Touching the trees.
There are several I knew
When I was in school
Gone, in the flesh,
But strong in wood.

We visit the trees we planted for our children.
One never grew.
They are scattered among so many others
I never knew.

Dear Jack’s there too, of course.
We’ll start with him.
Oh the stories!
The tangled roots
The unexpected branchings.
We’ll visit both our wedding trees.

I’m glad I’ve still got my legs
And my wind.
I want to get on to where I’ll be planted
If the weather holds.

I know they’ll bring the grandchildren
When the seedling’s set
Among my ashes.
It used to be hard for me to think about
Especially when I visited
Mother’s trees.
But now
It feels like a promised rest.
I’m glad I can still walk that far
And back.
Not long now.

The tree when I was born
Will be ready for harvest soon.
They’re arguing about what they’ll do with the wood.
It’s silly.
There’s enough for all.
Oh the stories.
Freddie’s tree died young, a few years after the storm
And we all got plenty.
Beautiful grain. Warm.
Mine’s a dresser.
The one that goes to Ben
He always took after his Aunt.

We go once a year, usually
There’s a guest house, now
Where we used to tent.
It’s still not bad
Quiet
Except after Yearly Meeting.
That’s the best, actually
In its own way.
Everybody telling stories
Touching the trees
Touching home.

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