The Uniquely Messy Forests of The PNW

I like pictures with texture. Foreground, background, color, texture and, most importantly, balance–all five are, generally speaking though not entirely inclusive, necessary for a good picture. The rest is just individual epigenetic development. Or, to put another way, the “eye” through which someone grows up to look out and see the world. (You get all sorts of variation there.) The floors and walls of the woods in western and central Oregon have texture in spades, I think. Color, too. I can’t go there, look around for too long and not see something that catches my eye. It’s almost overwhelming.

Most of these scenes I feel like a lot of people would just walk right by. That’s maybe true. But more so than anywhere else I go, the forests of Oregon are museums of living art. They exhibit three-dimensional canvases on invisible slides almost ceaselessly as one moves through it, on the trails or off them, and you have only to look up and to keep moving to catch them. They have no curators and they have no informational pamphlets, but, without a doubt, they are museums, built by years and by the seasons, presented to anyone with a natural curiosity about the distinct, regional biomes around them (or the ones that exists in this particular designated ecosystem or geographic climate) or for those who just can’t stand the urban, the mundane and the repetitive.

And they’re messy.  I mean, ‘messy’ is not the first word that instantly comes to mind when I go into the forests of Oregon, but it is a sense I get. Trees fall here and nobody cleans them up. Moss grows to cover every centimeter of a branch or entire tree and no one comes by to peel it off. Sword ferns begin to grow in the moss, on those branches, and nothing or no one feels the need to transplant those ferns back onto the ground, where they’re normally found. Shrubs die; logs rot and sink into the earth; stumps remain, squat and shattered; fallen leaves cover sections of grounds in brownish patches, get slimy and ultimately disintegrate; rock cliffs wear; younger trees bend and tilt under the weight of the rain and snow, sometimes toppling; water flows sideways over the footpaths; the ground becomes unlevel; and all the while life continues on, falling over or on top of itself, fed continuously by the rain, the sun and the decay around it.

In Europe–the western part of it, anyway–there are some countries that have environmental regulations in place to maintain the cleanliness of their forests. Employees go in and remove the fallen trees, leaves and duff, in an effort to be pre-emptive about blight and other floral illness and pro-active about sustainable forest management. I’ve seen the photos and heard the outrage from the native forest-lovers who’ve traveled abroad and brought back pictures and stories of visual forest sterility. You won’t get that here in Oregon. Or anywhere else in the U.S., I don’t believe. These places–these national forests around here–are all quite beautifully filthy, so to speak.


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