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Exercise 1a: Writing and the Environment
In the northern communities of British Colombia, Canada, there are strong seasonal cycles at work and with them is a seasonal movement of workers moving through the territory. The logging industry is big business and the workforce associated with it is diverse, rough and above all, temporary.
I was working for a tree-planting company based in the town of Prince George, BC where we would move through the remote logging communities, setting up camp for days or weeks at a time in the middle of the wild. From these remote campsites we would drive to even more remote locations, and from these we would often hike to even more remote locations.
It was after one such hike that my planting partner, Scott, and I found ourselves in a completely secluded and silent valley. It was, of course, not completely silent but the sounds of the forest have a way of amplifying the lack of any human interference or habitation. This particular silence is one that tree-planters know well and must come to terms with if they are to maintain their composure and sanity through the long days and months of their work term. It is the silence that wilderness hikers crave in the moderation of a day or weekend hike, but that becomes something else entirely over the course of a summer.
Each group of planters has a "cache", a home-base where the boxes of trees are stored under a tarp which they return to many times a day to fill up their planting bags with trees and then return to their piece of land. This cache is usually on a road or track that is accessible by ATV or sometimes just a clearing that is accessible by helicopter.
On this particular day I was returning to my cache alone, having finished my work before Scott and ready to "bag up" and get back out there. As I was filling my bags with trees I heard a rustling in the trees, the kind of slight snapping and movement that could be wind or could be any number of forest creatures making their way through the dense vegetation.
But it was enough to get my attention. I looked towards the tree-line and caught sight of a large brown mass emerging into the clearing about 10 m. from me. I did the only thing that comes naturally in this situation and completely froze. I stood half hunched over, holding a bundle of trees with my eyes locked on this beast that emerged from the forest and it, as it stepped up onto the ATV track that I was standing on, had it's eyes locked on me.
Having seen many moose that summer already while driving, I had formed a mental picture of these creatures as being awkward and comical. Moose have very long legs and a gigantic head which makes them one of the least graceful creatures in the forest. Where a deer might leap a fence or gap with startling ease, the moose is forced to crash it's way through with little ease or grace. They tend to hang out in shallow swamps or vegetation and we thus coined the term "swamp donkey" to refer to them.
What I saw in front of me was nothing like a "swamp donkey", there was nothing comical or ungraceful about it. This was an animal of raw power and stature that commanded respect. In it's eyes there was no savagery or malicious intent, but instead something much more frightful and commanding: indifference. It made no threatening or defensive gestures, it simply stared me down. And in that stare I felt the fragility of my own defenses, the entirety of my physical inadequacy in the face of this dominating beast.
After moments that seemed to stretch into infinity, the moose gave a slight, snorting grunt and lumbered back into the dense forest with sure footedness and without hesitation or care. I finally took a breath and the world seemed to come back to life around me.
In that moment I knew that my experience of the world had become a bit more complex and a bit simpler at the same time. It is a general axiom of our media culture that detached observation is completely different than "being there", but the actual depth of the disparity is not truly felt until one has come face to face with it. When the object of curiosity and amusement becomes one of respect and humbling.

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