Clear-cut Cedar Swamp area at the Tracker Primitive Camp
by a student of the Nov 2001 Caretaker Class
I was so excited to go down to the cedar swamp and see how big our baby cedars
were doing. I suppose I shouldn't have been expecting a whole lot - after all,
it had only been one growing season since we'd worked on the area. My group had
the section on the left side closest to the "road". It was so amazing how many
baby cedars we were finding once we started clearing all the slash out of there.
There were hundreds. I remember when I first started pruning back the deciduous
trees, I was cutting them down, rather than off, leaving them about a foot tall,
maybe less. I figured they would sprout and provide winter food for rabbits and
such. The problem with doing this was that someone would inevitably come behind
me and "finish" the job, cutting the trees off at ground or close to ground
level. I didn't like this too much, but I ended up following this procedure
in the end. We hauled a heck of a lot of deciduous trees out of that relatively
small area - many, many armloads full. When we looked back, the place was
virtually unrecognizable. I'm sure your area looked the same. All we could see
now were the tiny baby cedar trees that resembled young horsetail plants.
As the old, half-buried cedar slash was pulled out, we started finding areas
where water used to pool or even flow. It was really neat to imagine the life
that this area once had and would soon, with our help, have again.
Well, imagine my shock and horror when I didn't see a single cedar seedling!
Cedars that were a few feet high were tinged with brown and sickly. There was a
little sign of rabbit scat and I think I remember a few deer tracks. But no
seedlings! I couldn't believe my eyes - I didn't want to. I felt sick. I
checked out some of the other groups' areas. Some of the sites on the right
side still sported seedlings under the shade of the taller and more
densely-growing cedars. I had an idea what had happened, but I wanted to talk
to someone else.
I spoke to one of the caretakers at the camp to see what he had to say. What
he told me is that last summer (2002) it was extremely hot and dry. The cedar
seedlings, without the protective shade of the larger trees were essentially
burnt to a crisp. He also mentioned that the deer like to feed on the cedar
seedlings. (Something that rather surprised me.) It's hard to say if the
deciduous trees we cut out would have provided enough protection during an
abnormally hot and dry summer, but it sure makes me wonder. He figured we'd cut
too many out. And, of course, I wonder if having left the deciduous trees
pruned rather than cut down to the ground would have helped at all. I don't
remember now what the deciduous situation was when I went back. I wonder how
many seedlings will sprout now?
There were a couple of other people from our caretaker class there and I took
them down to see the site. They were not very happy about what they saw. It's
definitely a caretaking effort gone bad. I wonder if Tom Brown foresaw this? It also
worries me that a friend of mine (also in our class) and I embarked on a similar
caretaking project when we got home. It was a spruce and jack pine forest we
were working in. Neither of us had a chance to look at it this year. I sure
hope it's alright.
The new dirt bike trail through the bush that we had "disappeared" has been
opened up again and is looking well used. The stream that we "unstraightened"
and attempted to make impassable has also been reopened and well-used. As for
the "mud bog" where we were in up to our chests digging impassable holes, ditto.
Though maybe not quite as well used as the others, it seems to be getting more
use than it had before we "fixed it up". I think in this area where there are
so many people off-roading, these types of projects need to be more than a
one-time effort. They need to be continually monitored, or booby-trapped with
thought bubbles, in order to continually deter people from using them. I did
place a thought bubble near the medicine waters during the caretaker class, but
I didn't have a chance to go back to there.
I think it is just as important to learn from our failures as it is from our
|Commentary and Analysis
by Walter Muma
Caretaking exercise at the Clear-cut Cedar Swamp was not very well
supervised. People were told to emphasize the tiny cedar trees that
had been planted. Although the class had been through a number of
exercises in which they were taught how to follow their "inner
vision" in order to determine what to do, in many cases the exercise
quickly turned into a second clear-cutting session. It was observed
by some that there was a lot of ego involved, and very little
listening to inner vision or the Earth or the former swamp as to
what should be done and how. People were out to prove that they
could "fix" things.
As a result, most of the blueberry and other young shrubs were
completely removed, as described in the update (above). However, if
blueberries are what is growing up there naturally after the
clearcut, and they are native plants, then this is the Earth's way
of starting to heal this area. Small shrubs provide important cover
for young trees to grow, and they help to shade the soil so it won't
dry out. This is even more important given the context of the area.
Blueberry shrubs are found everywhere that forest cover has been
removed. This is what they do: colonize burned over or cut over
areas. They thus provide cover for other plants to grow up.
Cover helps to keep the soil from drying out as quickly. It slows
the impact of raindrops, so they don't hammer into and compact the
soil. It provides shelter as well, allowing smaller creatures (small
mammals, insects, amphibians, etc) to live and thrive.
Off to the west and north of the clearcut area there is still a
large area of ancient cedar swamp, dark from the shade of the old,
tall cedar trees and numerous understory shrubs. The ground is very
wet, with frequent pools of water. In stark contrast the ground in
the clearcut area is exposed to the drying effect of the sun and
wind, as there is no cover whatsoever. Thus the clearcut area has
significantly reduced water retention, and thus a significantly
reduced chance of becoming a swamp again (at least in the shorter
term). In this drier soil, an entirely different plant community
will grow up. Completely removing what cover does grow up in the
form of small shrubs seriously inhibits the return of wetter
Additionally, the drying effect present in this area draws water
off from the remaining cedar swamp, much like a sponge, thus helping
the remaining cedar swamp to dry it out somewhat, particularly at
Back to the blueberries and the cedars ... As they grow up, they
provide important cover for the young cedars to grow. Deer may be
less likely to find and eat them. They are protected from the sun's
heat. The ground will remain moister. If any action is to be taken,
then perhaps some gentle pruning as the cedars grow, to give them
room to flourish.
Pruning back ALL the blueberries and other small shrubs in fact
only encourages them to "sucker" and produce many shoots where
before there was only one. So if removal is the object of the
pruning, then it is counter-productive.
There is another, larger issue at work here, which is humankind's
desire to control and manipulate Nature. There was a cedar swamp
here before it was cut. It was removed. We get tied into labels very
easily, by calling this a "cedar swamp". Therefore, in our view,
there must be cedars here once again. So we plant them and hope that
they will grow up into majestic huge old cedar trees. Well, Nature
simply doesn't work that way! A cleared area will grow up in ways
that are most suitable for it at the time. It will probably be
something completely different than a "cedar swamp". It will become
what is best suited to that area, for those conditions. Perhaps
someday, hundreds of years from now, there will indeed be a "cedar
swamp" here once again. Maybe, maybe not. But we can't plant and
"grow" a majestic cedar swamp; plant some trees and "poof" and
there's a swamp. And in any case, who's to say that's what is now
best for that area?
A swamp, like any forest, is a community of plants and animals,
birds, insects, etc. It is not just a collection of a single species
Perhaps the lesson to be learned from this whole experience is to be
reminded once again of what Caretaking is really all about. It is
about assisting Nature, offering an informed and aware helping hand.
It is about healing the damage that we have done to the Earth, but
it is also all about asking and listening, before doing. It is about
allowing Nature and the Earth to run their normal natural course,
with minimal interference, and all we humans are to do is offer a
guiding hand from time to time.
By the way, this was the central and underlying theme of both
Caretaking classes that were taught at the Tracker School. Perhaps
it wasn't taught well enough, and as a result many in the
class didn't absorb this central theme.