\ ˈklir-ˌkət \
1) an area of forest in which all the trees have been thoughtlessly and needlessly cut down so that one or two people can make their mortgage payment.
2) land often overlooked as abandoned or undesirable where humans, together with other organisms, can slowly transform wasteland back into a thriving, life-sustaining ecosystem.
If there is yet a frontier left to be discovered on earth, one that still affords us an attempt at “starting over” and taking up our rightful, symbiotic rolls within the ecosystems we’ve always been part of, it is surely the frontier of the industrial wastelands: i.e., lands that have gone to waste through human abuse, and therefore represent our biggest opportunities for healing and ecological redemption.
Enter the clearcut, perhaps the official wasteland of the province of Nova Scotia. Here on the North Mountain, we’ve seen an exponential increase in private land clearcuts over the past decade. Aside from the few humans whose mortgage payments rely on this sort of ecocide, these places are a perennial source of protest, anger, and dismay in the communities they insert themselves. The question remains, however: what do we do with these places?
Our homestead is built on a clearcut. Completed in 2001, what is now Snow Lake Keep was a Bowater Mersey cut. Purchased in 2005, the landscape was unrecognizable. Visitors of the farm today can hardly believe that the lush forest and active ecological farm that surrounds them here was only recently the sort of landscape that would have them reaching for their Extinction Rebellion banners.
But this sort of ecological 180º is only possible through the creative symbiosis that happens when people choose to occupy these forgotten places. Left to “recover” on their own, these deeply damaged ecosystems take more than decades to return to landscapes that most would define as forest, and some never do. Unlike a natural fire event, clearcuts are harsh, wind-swept places. Much of the regrowth takes the form of rapid coppice suckering on mature root-systems that quickly crowd out and become stunted. The deep rutting caused by the machines permanently disturbs natural watersheds. These challenges to recovery are human-caused, and their solutions are human intervention.
Snow Lake Keep is proof of this concept, and it’s something we’d like to see on a larger scale, province-wide.
A couple of our members have undertaken just that, beginning with the purchase of a hotly-protested 2019 clearcut on Hampton Mountain Road. This project aims to aid the recovery of the forest, and more than that, to showcase the ways that these discarded landscapes can become hubs for cultural, ecological, and even spiritual impact.
A big part of this vision is the aim to get people out on the land, out into the cut. When people connect with these places, something amazing happens. Instead of outrage and depression, the response is often a natural desire to aid the recovery of an ecosystem asking for help. Bringing people back into the equation can take many forms: from building a life on the land and forming the sort of long-term relationship with the recovery that has helped shape Snow Lake Keep, to taking a hike through your local clearcut and observing what’s happening there. There are relatively few barriers to engagement because, quite literally, no one cares about these places.
The recovery has already begun on the Hampton Mountain cut. We have been harvesting firewood from the slash and preparing a large-scale biochar operation to return as much carbon to the soil as possible in short order. Folks from as far away as Vancouver and Montreal have expressed interest in setting up homesteads on the land here. We also have plans to bring artists and healers onto the landscape to add to the drumbeat through land-based installations, sweat lodges, and guided hikes.
The return of life to a wasteland is a life-affirming process, and thankfully it’s one we can look forward to taking part in, as there are so many of these places in need of our creativity. We will be sure to post updates on our progress in this new frontier and hope you will join us! When we reclaim these injured part of our world, we reclaim part of ourselves, and certainly that’s something worth caring about.