Wednesday, December 08, 2010

C. S. Lewis and the Future of Forestry

Just last night, I experienced an amazing concert at Chico's El Rey Theatre by the band, Future of Forestry (for more on them, go here). Since they derive their name from an obscure poem by that great Christian muse of the twentieth century, C. S. Lewis, it sparked my creative Lewisian juices and got me off my blogging butt. (This site has remained dormant for almost a month.) So here goes....

I start with the opening lines from Lewis

How will the legend of the age of trees
Feel, when the last tree falls in England?
When the concrete spreads and the town conquers
The country’s heart....

These lines, penned in 1938, presciently peer into our day and into my mind. When I lament the fixation of children today on Wii, the teens on their smartphones, and the college students on their iPods, and me on my omnipresent and omniscient iPhone, I wonder how disconnected we all have become from nature. 

Lewis wonders if it's not only an alienation from nature but also from the certain stories. Has our mastery over nature through science and its scion, technology, not actually mastered us, by muting our essential connection with nature and thereby silencing the stories that nature inspires?

The questioning children, “What was a chestnut?
Say what it means to climb a Beanstalk,
Tell me, grandfather, what an elm is.
What was Autumn? They never taught us.”

Because, as Lewis points out, there is something almost magical--and certainly something divine--imbedded as an act of ongoing creation in the forests and in the mountains. I know this as I go walking among the hills and the trees of Chico's Bidwell Park. 

And as the band Future of Forestry celebrated last night, in a glorious, wall-of-sound Christmas paean of praise, "Joy to the World," it is during this season, this time of celebrating God's coming and dwelling with us in human flesh, that "heaven and earth shall sing." 

Just this morning, in an unrelated context, I read Psalm 50, verse 2 that describes the God who "shone forth from Zion" as "the zenith of beauty" (50:2). It is in nature where often I see God's beauty, where I find myself in a return to that unmitigated glory of original creation. 

In the just-published Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis, Michael Guite finds a linking of Lewis's poetry and contemporary "deep ecology," where, Lewis presents that, through nature, and as we are redeemed in Christ, we become connected with nature's profound, primary truths. Lewis concludes his poem by wondering if, this industrial, technological age hasn't lost connection with the rest of creation and thus with something poignant and essential. 

Of goblins stalking in silky green,
Of milk-sheen froth upon the lace of hawthorn’s
Collar, pallor in the face of birchgirl.
So shall a homeless time, though dimly
Catch from afar (for soul is watchfull)
A sight of tree-delighted Eden.
In sum: Lewis poses just the right question for us, What will be the future of forestry? 


Steven said...

Yes. More blogging. It's been far too long between posts.

Anonymous said...

I liked your comment divinity in observing the "ongoing creation in the forests." The questioning children reminded me how Lewis found nature gave him definition to the intangible words of "Glory" and "Fear."

Yet Lewis was no "Greenie" as those of today. Nature was to be seen "through" to the "..goblins stalking in silky green..So shall a homeless time, though dimly Catch from afar A sight of tree-delighted Eden."

He had a slightly different take on what "destroying nature" went beyond the wood to the word.

"We reduce things to mere Nature in order than we may 'conquer them...." and remember, he warned us that Mere was a dangerous word. "..Every conquest over Nature increases her domain. The stars do not become Nature till we can weigh and measure them; the soul does not become Nature till we can psycho-analyze her. The wresting of power from Nature is also the surrendering of things to Nature."

"when the last tree falls"... at it's worst it would be as in That Hideous Strength. Lewis has Filostrato say,

"The forest tree is a weed. But I tell you I have seen the civilised tree in Persia…It was made of metal...if it were perfected.. So natural, it would even deceive…It never dies. No leaves to fall, no twigs, no birds building nests, no mulch and mess...why any natural trees? I foresee nothing but the art tree all over the earth. In fact, we clean the planet."

Lewis balked when a poet describes the color green as natures "Universal Robe" seeing it as small minded in it's view of both God and nature:

"Most of nature, as anyone can see on a fine night, is not green but black, and the better the visibility, the blacker. Even Terrestrial nature is by no means green...Cowper's Maxim that God made the country and man made the town [overlooks] that the landscape in most civilized countries is through and through modified by human skill and toil, or that the effect of most 'townscapes' is enormously indebted to the atmospheric is superficial to say we have escaped the works of man to those of Nature, when in fact...wearing our man-made boots and cloths...But we are expressing something we really feel. The wider range of vision has something to do with it; we are seeing more of nature...We also feel...that we are, for the moment, in conditions more suited more suited to our own nature... " -Studies in Words

I think the poem suggests this same kind "sisterly" connection to nature as part of community as his comments here:

"Tolkien once remarked to me that the feeling about home must have been quite different in the days when a family had fed on the produce of the same few miles of country for six generations, and that perhaps this was why they saw nymphs in the fountains and dryads in the wood—they were not mistaken for there was in a sense a real (not metaphorical) connection between them and the countryside. What had been earth and air and later corn, and later still bread, really was in them. We of course who live on a standardized international diet (you may have had Canadian flour, English meat, Scotch oatmeal, African oranges, and Australian wine today) are really artificial beings and have no connection (save in sentiment) with any place on earth. We are synthetic men, uprooted. The strength of the hills is not ours."

Bill Jackson-Oroville