The Key to the Forest

The key to the forest.  @BigPowerProject

The key to the forest. @BigPowerProject

They gave us the key to the forest.

Not a key to an enclosed space, a home or a car, or some other even smaller space that protects what you hold most dear--a safe or locket. No, a key to the forest, a key that opens something big, a landscape filled with mountains, cliff faces, trees, and streams. Little creatures too: mushrooms and owls, fawns and horseflies.

The key to the forest doesn’t just open onto the living, natural world. It also opens onto the land of the dead. For with this key, one enters into the Teanaway Community Forest, a forest that was brutally burned during the 2017 Jolly Mountain fire.

Perhaps, you remember the Jolly Mountain fire? It was the first wildfire to truly blanket the Puget Sound with smoke. It turned sunny August days into a thick miasma of gray with the orange puck of the sun hovering above. Perhaps you remember August of 2018, as well, when the smoke season returned and removed a slice from summer?

This Friday, we will slip this key into a padlock and pull open a gate. A small convoy of SUV’s and a logging truck will wind a few miles and 1,200 feet up a single-lane, dirt-road to a fork.

It is with these previous years in mind, we will do what comes next. We will fell 15 trees that have been standing dead for the past two years. We will hitch them to a winch and drag them to the road. There, they will be divided into 40-foot segments and loaded onto the open bed of the logging truck. (I know of no gentle language for this work.)

Three days later, on June 10th, these trees will be driven west on I-90, crossing Snoqualmie Pass and the towns of North Bend, Issaquah, and Bellevue. They will traverse Lake Washington and turn north onto I-5 and exit on Mercer Street before making a final, straight run west toward Seattle Center.

Teanaway Community Forest.  @casswalkerphoto

Teanaway Community Forest. @casswalkerphoto

The Smoke Season
We’re bringing these burned trees to the city to create a haven for dialogue about the fifth season that has entered the lives of the citizens of Puget Sound: The Smoke Season. It frightens me to write this, but it seems important to be clear: if this summer is like the previous two, there is more smoke to come.

Smoke is a wily substance. It cannot be touched. It provides no reaction if you strike out at it or raise your voice. It burns your eyes and lungs. It suffocates. And then it disappears. You almost forget that it was there. You almost forget that it never used to be there. The trees, though, they remember. They couldn’t move when the fire swirled around in their canopies and consumed the bark on their trunks.

These trees will be placed in three installations across Seattle Center’s campus:

  • The first, Lone Fir, will stand 40’ tall amidst the white arches of Pacific Science Center’s inner courtyard, a single tree, standing in for the 35,000 acres of forest that burned during the Jolly Mountain fire.  

  • The second, Distress Signal, is a giant SOS written with carbonized logs in 52,000 point font; it will sit directly to the east on the Broad Street lawn. This piece is so large, that we are not clear if it will be legible from the ground. Hopefully, together, we will decipher its meaning.

  • The final piece, Future Shadows--also on Broad Street--is comprised of four burnt Douglas fir laid at the base of four living London planetrees, a quiet space to meditate on the fragile balance of our time.

Pacific Science Center will be accompanying these art installations with an exhibition entitled Wildfire that will provide the public with deeper insights into the topic--its causes and impacts on environmental and human health. The installations and exhibition will run from June 15th to September 15th, 2019. (And we’d love to see you at the June 14th opening. Details here.)

I’ll be writing regularly on the topics of smoke and wildfire in the months to come. If you’d like to follow along, subscribe from this link.

Thank you for joining us and for being curious and concerned about the world in which we live!

Ted Youngs