Letter from California
01/22/06 0607.27 pst
San Jose, California
In 1857 when the great Comstock silver lode was discovered in Nevada the miners were determined to implement a new method of “deep mining,” which essentially meant methodically and systematically bracing their tunnels. Bracing requires handy material, so the miners clear-cut 150 square miles of irreplaceable old growth forests of sugar and white pine in what is now known as the Tahoe National Forest.
Basically a replay of the immense old growth hardwood forests that stretched from Pennsylvania to Illinois—100% ripped and stripped the previous fifty years before. The great trees from that era always had to be transported by water, and it turns out that a great many sank in their journey to the mills.
Enterprising and clever divers of our times find good collection spots for that sunken treasure, haul the logs to the surface and make very, very good money selling the lumber to furniture makers, for amazingly--even 175 years underwater—this is still a highly prized wood completely unmatched in the modern era for its extremely hard, old-growth characteristics and grains.
Perhaps one day a brave and enterprising soul will figure out a way to extract the sunken treasure of old growth lumber in the Nevada silver mines—tens of millions of dollars in material right there for the taking, if they can only figure out how to safely yank it out (the bracing beams are huge, at least 1 x 1 and 12 feet long). That’s a very tall order, probably, but never underestimate the ability of Californians to sniff out a buck—it wouldn’t surprise me to see a California company raiding the Comstock mines yet again in the futrue, bracing with some cost-effective method to deliver an extremely valuable buried treasure of old growth forest.
One could easily turn this into a story of environmental horror and pining for a past that can never be again, but it’s so last century. We’re never going to see the incredible Tahoe old growth forest (at least Twain got to marvel at it), and I wish we could have preserved it, of course, but it’s gone. I prefer to use the story as an example of utterly clueless humans blindly hacking down a precious resource in a frenzied lust for another. They truly did not see and know what they what they were doing.
We in the modern era do not have the right to be so haughty to our ignorant ancestors. Yes, we would never allow the Tahoe National Forest to be stripped for mining these days, but do we have an environmental resource blind spot in the present that mimics the clueless behavior of the past?
Of course we do: oil. Come on, we horribly pollute our air with it (emphysema rates among are kids are rising far too fast), warm the planet burning it, cause incredible damage seeking it, spend a vast fortune we don’t have buying it, and completely distort and pervert our national interests in the pursuit of protecting it. Our forefathers were really, really stupid about old growth forests, but were just as stupid in our totally-in-denial addiction to oil.
It’s far too tempting to think of ourselves as totally advanced from those times of ignorance, but our current folly in Iraq (more Californians have died there than from any other state) should sharply remind us that we have not come as far along as we think. The Tahoe National Forest was as once remote and seemingly hidden as the middle east is today, and the manifestly foolish behavior that occurred with the Comstock lode is still with us.