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2018-10-10 / Columnists

Just Bill

Can We Learn Something from a Mixed Forest?
Musings from the Mind of Bill Diem

One of the many things I missed in September was a visit to the Soo Film Festival September 12 - 16. In a way, I had an entry in the festival. I had written Julia Dordel, a German filmmaker who cowrote and produced a documentary on “Intelligent Trees,” and suggested she enter her film.

The film was screened in the Soo Saturday, September 15, and the audience gave it a double prize: as the best foreign documentary feature and best documentary feature overall.

Last night I watched it again, dubbed in French, in the multi-purpose room of our village. It’s available now on a DVD, packaged with a French feature, “The Secret Life of Plants.” The upshot of both documentaries is that plants are living creatures that communicate with each other.

One point made by a forester-ecologist in British Columbia is that in a healthy forest, there is more than one kind of tree. When the forest is a monoculture—all Douglas Fir in the Pacific Northwest, for example, or red pine in the Curtis school forest—the trees don’t grow as fast or as well as they do in a mixed forest.

The forest creates a microclimate, and the trees help each other in ways we don’t understand yet, protecting each other from disease, drought, insect attack, etc .

Another thought was that “Maybe we humans can learn from forests.” It’s true that the German forester who has popularized the idea of intelligent trees, Peter Wohlleben, observed that while the community of the forest is more important than any individual tree, such a communist approach hasn’t worked very well among humans.

But is it possible that a mixed human culture is better than a monoculture?

The first movie I saw back in France was “BlacKkKlansman,” the Spike Lee film about a black cop in Colorado Springs who went undercover with a white cop friend to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan and prevent a bomb attack.

One point of that movie was that racism breeds terrorism. A white supremacist drove into a demonstration in Charlottesville, VA and killed a young white woman demonstrating against hate. He used the same weapon as the Islamic terrorist in Nice, France, who drove a truck into a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day in 2016.

Another point of Lee’s movie was that the problem of racism can be addressed from inside our society. The hero’s girlfriend believed that blacks needed to arm themselves and prepare for a revolution. The hero argued that by working within it, the town’s white police force could lose its racism, and indeed, he and his white cop friends took down the blatantly racist cop on the force.

I think America is a forest of white spruce, black spruce and red pine, Spanish moss and cherry trees, and I think our forest is stronger when it’s a mixed forest and not a collection of monocultures under the old “separate but equal” idea.

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