Tuesday, 20 February 2007

The Wood Knoweth No Breach In All Its Beauty

I Planted Trees by Richard St Barbe Baker, Lutterworth Press 1944; Forests and the Ancients

…….The wood knoweth no breach in all its beauty; holy fragrance resteth there throughout the land; ne’er shall it be changed to all eternity, until He who first created it shall end His ancient work of former days.

The Phoenix Anglo-Saxon (eight century).

...Modern man has bartered his forest inheritance for beer, meat and wheat. That is putting it crudely, and some hard thinking may be required before the truth of this comes home to the average person, who may find it difficult to believe that the forest was the earliest home of man. It provided both food and shelter. Its wild animals developed the hunter, first providing means of subsistence and then, exhilaration and recreation. The mast, the fruit of the oak, beech and other forest trees in the openings of the forest and the protected pasture, gave the forest its value for the herdsman, and only later with the development of settled communities and more elaborate conditions of life did the wood product come to be considered its main contribution towards civilization. Through the ages it has always influenced the soil, climate and water conditions.

Yes, the forest was indeed the cradle of mankind, and yet man has been ruthless in his destruction of it. Civilizations arose as they exploited their forests and vanished with their destruction. As agriculture developed, the need for farmland overshadowed the usefulness of the forest as a means of providing meat, simple food and shelter. As his appetite increased, he kept tame animals in flocks and herds from which he could take whenever he thought he needed it. Soon he become lazy and lost the art of living by his bow, so he cleared more fresh areas of forest and made fields and pastures upon which to fatten his flocks and herds. The simple forest diet of herbs and gourds gave place to wheat and other cultivated grain, for which he needed still more virgin land from the forest. Lastly, not content with honey, he cleared more land still to grow sugar cane and beet.

As the forest was cleared away by scanty populations, waste was the rule, until necessity arose demanding greater care in its exploitation and a more rational distribution of farm and forest areas, when finally there came the need for the intentional reproduction of wood as a crop. There are but scanty records of the beginning of man’s acquaintance with trees.

Primitive man saw the resemblance between his life and the life of trees. His needs and necessities being what they were, it is not surprising that one of his first cults should have been that of the tree.

The mysteries of growth, the seasonal change in the green world around him and the age-long life of trees led him to regard them as supernatural, or as symbols of immortality.

The trees called forth veneration, and tree worship is found among the very earliest traces of religion, as, for example, on the engraved cylinders of Chaldaea, some of which date back to 4000 BC. It was mo mere crude tree worship, for even at that early stage it had undergone a process of idealisation. In a bilingual hymn of Arcadian origin, which is probably one of the most ancient specimens of literature in existence, a mystical tree is described as the “abode of the gods.” In Babylonia the sacred tree was closely associated with Istar, the Divine Mother, whose cult was introduced into Chaldaea from Eridu, the city that flourished on the shores of the Persian Gulf about 3640 BC. Among the Canaanites every altar had a sacred tree beside it, and when the Israelites established local sanctuaries they set up their altar under a green tree and planted beside it as its indispensable companion the Ashera, which was either a living tree of a tree-like post.

In the early strivings of the mind of primitive man to account for the scheme of creation, the tree quite rightly took a foremost place, and the sky and its clouds and illuminations became likened to an enormous cosmogonic tree, of which the fruits were sun, moon and stars. Many races of the earth evolved their own conception of a world tree, vast as the world itself. They looked upon this tree as the cradle of their being, and it bore different names among different nations and possessed different attributes. The world Tree of the Indian paradise was the mandara, very similar in its attributes was the World Tree of Buddha, the Tree of Wisdom, of Perfection and of Holiness. The old Tree of the Iranians or Persians was the naoma tree, bearing an immortalizing and life-giving juice. There was, too, the Tree of Eden - the Tree of Knowledge.

The patriarchs of the Bible went into the woods to worship God, and in the oak grove at Mamre we are told that Abraham entertained God Himself. We also learn that the Patriarch raised an altar to Jehovah near a grove of terebinths, oaks, in the Valley of Hebron.

Divine revelations were often associated with trees. Moses received his call through the burning bush; a very arresting sight was this thorn with its startlingly red leaves. Aaron carried a rod of the almond tree. The Psalmist was inspired by trees and revered them as a manifestation of Jehovah.

The trees of the Lord are full of sap, the Cedar of Lebanon which He hath planted…..Lord, how manifold are Thy works.

In wisdom Thou hast made them all; the earth is full of Thy riches.

In wisdom Thou hast made them all; the earth is full of Thy riches.

The prophet Isaiah says:

For ye shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree; and instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Christ Himself likened His kingdom unto a seed which grew to be the greatest on earth. In His hour of mental anguish, He went among the olive trees of Mount Olivet, and in the words of the American Sidney Lanier that musician and poet who wrote in his “Ballad of the Trees and the Master”:

Into the woods my Master went,

Clean forsent, forspent………………

But the Olives were not blind to Him,

The little grey leaves were kind to Him:

The thorn-tree had a mind to Him

When into the woods He came.

Rabbinical tradition is that the tree of the Cross, or the tree of Adam, was adopted by the Mohammedans, the account to the Koran differing but little from the Bible story. Among the tribes of Siberia legend tells that the beginning of the world a tree was born without branches. God caused nine branches to spring, at the foot of which were born nine men, the predestined ancestors of the nine human races. The tradition of the World Tree can be traced in the Mohammedan belief that paradise is situated in the seventh heaven, in the center of it stands the immortal tree called tooba, which is so large that a man mounted on the fleetest horse could not ride round its branches in a hundred years, but whose boughs are laden with delicious fruit of a size and taste unknown to mortals. The rivers of paradise take their rise from the tree, flowing some with water, some with mild, some with honey, while others are blessed. It was by a lotus tree that Mohammed gained his inspiration. It was under a pippala tree, Fiscus religiosa, that Gautama achieved perfect knowledge. This is the bo tree, or tree of Buddha, and it is said when his mother, Maya, felt her time was at hand she retired to the lumbini garden, and there, standing and holding on to the branch of a bo tree or, as some say, a sal tree, she gave birth to the future prophet. The name bo is that by which this tree is known in Ceylon, from bodhi, which means “wisdom,” personified in the tree, the Tree of Knowledge.

Our own poets are inspired by trees, from Chaucer who wrote “The verie essence, and, as it were, springeheade and origine of all musicke is the verie pleasaunte sound which the trees of the forest do make when they growe,” down to our modern poets of whom I regard Montro as outstanding:

How beautifully they grow,

Crowding the brink of silence everywhere,

With branches dipping low

To smile toward us or to stroke our faces

Above their stiles and lanes and watery places.

Or Thomas Hood:

I remember, I remember,

The for trees dark and high;

I used to think their slender tops

Were close against the sky:

It was a childish ignorance,

But now ‘tis little joy

To know I’m farther off from heav’n

Than when I was a boy.

Surely these lines record the passing by the individual through the same experience through which the race has passed; which made Wordsworth long even for a creed outworn, if only he could feel Nature more akin to him. In our approach to the study of trees and forestry we do well to consider their poetry, for is there not something inherent in all of us that responds to it? Deep in our hearts we feel that it is part of our heritage, and our poets have expressed man’s eternal search for truth.

Flower in the crannied wall,

I pluck you out of the crannies,

I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,

Little flower- but if I could understand

What you are, root and all, and all in all,

I should know what God and man is.

If that applies to Tennyson’s little flower, how much more does it apply to a tree. The mystery of renewal, the mystery of the seasons, the promise of spring.

It was among the trees in the beautiful Garden of the Rizwan that Baha’u’llah announced himself as “Him whom God shall Manifest” and , addressing all humanity, Baha’u’llah said, “Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch. All the nations, peoples and tongues are the branches leaves, blossoms and fruits of his great tree of humanity.

While we have many references to trees among the ancients in the writings of the poets and historians, these are generally too brief to give us a clear picture of the progress of forest history. But we do know that the countries which were occupied and known to the ancients were well-wooded. Palestine was not always bare of trees, neither was Sinai a desert. The mountains of Lebanon were covered with extensive forests, but as far back as the eleventh century before Christ forests of Asia Minor and Greece, especially in the neighbourhood of thriving cities, had vanished to meet the need for timber. There was a continual drain upon the forest fo Mount Lebanon. The wood for the temple at Tyre and Sidon came from Lebanon in 465 B.C.

Artaxerxes I attempted to regulate the cutting, but by 333BC Alexander the Great found that the timber, at least on the south slope, was exhausted. The destruction by axe and fire of the great forests of Sherin, Carmel and Bashan is the theme of the prophet Isaiah in 590 BC and the Jewish wars is depicted by the historian Josephus.

According to Diodorus Siculus, about 100BC the southern provinces of Spain were densely wooded, but a hundred years before, when the Romans took possession , a great forest fire, starting through the Pyrenees, ran over the country, exposing deposits of silver ore which brought

A large influx of miners, which was the cause of the reckless de-afforestation of the country.

When the forests of the Mediterranean countries became decimated as a result of colonization, or exploitation, fire or other abuses, supplies of wood could still be secured by water from distant parts and the lignarii , or wood merchants, of Italy drew their supplies from as far-distant places as India by way of Alexandria. We learn that they went for ash to Asia Minor, for cedar to Cilicia. There was a regular wood market in Rome, where firewood was sold by the pound in Cicero’s time at about three shillings for a man’s load, approximately two hundred pounds. They knew how to carry big loads in those days.

In ancient times, unlike the present day, when forests along hostile frontiers are cleared for protection, forests were regarded as a barrier and defence against outsiders, or a hiding place in case of need, so in early times we find frontier forests, or, as Germans call them, Grenzmarken,

designated for such purpose and set aside to serve as bulwark against attacks from invaders. There were sacred groves among the Greeks and Romans as well as among the Pagans. During Joshua successful campaign in Palestine there must have been considerable forest destruction. The Israelites were enjoined to eradicate the sacred groves in the promised land with axe and fire, and this they did most thoroughly, to the determent of the land, which soon ceased to flow with milk and honey. The Hittites and the Amorites, the forest dwellers and the natural protectors of the forest, were ruthlessly driven from the forest fastnesses, and gradually the man with the plough and the hoe upset the balance of nature. Later the Levites, with their priestly shrewdness, took upon themselves the role of forest protectors and instituted a form of arboriculture in the Feast of the Trees, and from a form the time that they entered the Holy Land the Jewish nation has celebrated this annually.

As in Palestine, so among the Indian Brahmins, Ethiopians and the Egyptians as well as among the Greeks and Romans, sacred forest lands were reserved by the priests and religious leaders. In the Orient kings were the undisputed owners of all un-appropriated public forests. Such was the case with the Indian and Brahmin princes.

While the first Roman kings had their forest tombs, which were distributed among the people, after their expulsion with the extension of Christendom, the holy trees and groves became the property of the Emperors, who sometimes preserved them or enacted laws for their protection. This is the cutting and selling of Cypress and other trees in the holy grove near Antioch and of the persicon of walnut trees in Egypt which had been deemed holy under the Pharaohs. If cut without permission, a penalty of five pounds in gold was enacted.

It was found in Attica as well as in Rome that the state could not satisfactorily carry out any business. Forestry was no exception, and so state forests returned out under a system of time or perpetual rent. The tenants, after exploiting the timber, sublet the denuded lands as pasture except where coppice could be utilised with profit. The Greeks had their hyloroi, or forest guards, and, amasing for those early days, Theophrastus, a pupil of Aristotle and Plato, produced the first work on plant history and wood technology, a most important branch of forestry.

The Romans were poor foresters, and paid but little attention to their woods or forestry, but we must allow that nursery practice was well known to Cato. Among the ancients there were those who possessed more silvercultural knowledge than they are usually credited today, and there is little doubt that some of their knowledge and practice found entrance among the German tribes who came into contact with the Romans during the fourteenth century. Thence they, in the course of centuries have developed silvercultural systems which became intensively applied and from which they have developed the reputation for forestry which they hold today...

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