Friday, November 27, 2009

Everyone Loves to Hug (Important) Trees

If a developer today attempted to come near the Sequoia National Park in northern California with plans to remove trees, extend touristic ventures, build a hotel, even erect a viewing platform, he would be stopped.

He would be stopped by locals from nor cal, he would be stopped by fellow Americans, he would be stopped by people from across both oceans.

Aside from our hypothetical people, however, what exactly is creating this thrust for conservation, this need to "save" something so relatively local to one area? Why might people from around the world care about this particular spot, a "national" treasure?

I would argue that the draw here for so many concerns that which Tsing begins to tackle on page 200 of Friction, "landscape and memory," in particular, collective memory.

Somewhere like Sequoia National Park -- perhaps for my purposes not unlike places/treasures like Machu Picchu, Patagonia, Yellowstone's geysers --- hold memories for many, a vital note for conservationists like those working with the Meratus forest. The memories built up around Redwood Trees have created myths of their beauty and size. Granted thousands if not millions of people have visited the national park itself, images of the Park and its trees proliferate through the Internet, through postcards, through history books, through family photos, and more.

The Park itself has become a site of converging memories-- now fed additionally through tourism. Collective memory that transcends state or even national lines has enveloped this site. At stake in disrupting it is now the history of place (California since its founding), the history of person (those who have visited), and maybe most importantly, the imagined history and imagined beauty of place (thriving on myths and fleeting images of the place). People are collectively, are universally bent on "saving" this place.

So why not the same with the Meratus forest? In contrast to the Sequoia National Park, the Meratus forest has not "already been claimed for the shadows of nationalist elite imaginations" (201). And surely this is good. Perhaps it is better that the many local tribes, the various communities might share in the many memories that converge in this forest... or perhaps, more accurately, there was a time when this sort of remembrance was better.

But why not also consider that what is risked here, what is lost in such partial, localized, and fragmented memory abandons the hope of a unified saviour. A unified saving of place in place of many, small and ultimately hopeless attempts to prevent the mass force of global development (ie. greed).

Local seems to be tackling global in the Meratus forest, and Tsing points out which is the losing side. But must it be so--- what if a more unified, larger sense of 'mattering' took root here? Might this save Meratus?

Or is something like memory all too reliant on the past and thus unable to transform the present?

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