The Gains of Losing

  • March 04, 2019
  • Posted by Stefan Nickells

Schlepping a saw for 10 straight days, shoulder, bicep, and forearm muscles pushing the civility of in-body protest, the trees of this 26-acre plot won’t be thinned in any version of personal comfort. This Western Larch/Lodgepole complex is a test plot managed by The Nature Conservancy. Utilizing the latest scientific research and management techniques, a two-headed course is plotted here: to increase the resiliency of this plant community to higher temperatures and more erratic, intense, and infrequent bouts of rainfall due to climate change, and to strengthen habitat for snowshoe hare and lynx who require dense patches of brush for cover and forage. No matter the wildlife or the weather, our prescription is the same: let the tallest trees stand, and in appropriate spatial intervals clear all the whipping saplings that lash the arms and writhe in their final fit under the whine of the saw.

To say the work is tiresome is to say Hobby Lobby decor is camp. Ordinarily, this would become a meditation on what is gained through suffering, what truths are revealed through hardship. But the insights here come from loss. Every day in the morning, when cold air slips beneath each layer and gets baffled between fibers, the most obvious absence is warmth. Later in the day, after a morning of slicing through green softwoods and straining one’s back to make each end-of-reach cut, intrigue and dynamism is nowhere to be found. And later at camp, the loss of convenience, whether doing dishes or fetching water 1/2 mi. away in the tributary, slides into focus. These losses are the sum total of an “earned” life, sharing its root with earnest. And it allows one to train their attention not on these losses, but what remains when the losses allow us, as Thoreau experienced, “to front only the essential facts of life…to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life.” The areas we cut are more beautiful when we’re done, mostly due to the tariff of pain with which it was created, but so are our bodies, and the streamlined constitutions that resistance, denial, and asceticism-lite proffered in light of all that we had lost.


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