But the dream of nature is so dear to us that to wake from it seems like a betrayal. The sense that we have not yet gone over that brink—not quite—is what motivates us to our ablutions, our donations, our recycling, our hope. But it is a great untruth. The task now, perhaps, is not to preserve the fantasy of a separate and pure nature, but to see how thoroughly we are part of the new nature that still lives. That's what it will take to preserve it, and us.
We went to find the rest of the loggers. The truck dropped us at the edge of a large, muddy clearing with a dozen large, felled trees stacked around its periphery. The air was alive with the riot of engines and saws. The clearing was a temporary holding area for trees that had been felled in the surrounding forest. A man with a chainsaw went from log to log, sawing off the sloping protrusions of roots at their bases, while other workers, both men and women, measured and marked them. An angry, saber-toothed forklift picked logs up in twos or threes and dropped them into a pile. They landed with a deep thunk.
After our peaceful stroll through the forest, we were a little freaked out by the crashing industry of it all. I had expected a sustainable logging collective to involve a dozen nice folks and a good chainsaw. Instead, the nice folks had serious machinery and meant business. You could have taken pictures here that looked like every conservationist's nightmare—a mayhem of logs and mud. Or you could have taken pictures of the jolly, hardworking crew, and of the communities they supported, and of the forest that, it was hoped, their logging was helping to protect.
"The skidder is coming!" Gil said. "You can't see this very often! Let's go, let's go!" We ran to the edge of the clearing and into the forest. A corridor of crushed vegetation led deeper into the jungle. Something had been through here. Trees were scraped and bruised where it had passed.
From the forest, we heard the shriek and growl of an engine. It heaved into sight: the skidder. This was how logs were brought out from the inaccessible interior, where they had been felled. They were dragged out behind a narrow, streamlined tank, a low, blunt-nosed hedgehog of a machine that was now headed our way.
Gil raised his iPod to record it. "We want to make sure not to be near it when it passes," he said, in the staring voice of the awestruck. The skidder plunged toward us, a colonizing robot from another world, surprisingly fast, shouldering trees aside as it bore closer, nearly on top of us.
And then we were running for our lives, screaming with joy and terror, leaping out of the way. It passed just a few yards from us, wheels grinding, and was gone. In its wake, a gigantic log slid coolly, massively, over the forest floor.
Distressed, Gil waved the iPod in the air. "It wasn't recording!" His disappointment took the form of an intense, quivering joy. Then we turned, and the machine was there again, back from the clearing, outbound for another log, bullheaded, inhuman, implacable.
On our way out, we stopped at the patio—the storage area near the highway, where logs awaited transport. They were piled twenty or more to a stack, each log three feet in diameter. We drove over soft ground flooded with rainwater, winding our way through a dozen stacks, two dozen. Flying ants wavered against the mountainous piles of logs. The purple stylus of a dragonfly appeared and disappeared. The air was thick with wood and rot.
Gil shook his head. "It's hard to believe this won't f--- up the forest, isn't it?"
Adapted from Visit Sunny Chernobyl, by Andrew Blackwell. Copyright (c) 2012 by Andrew Blackwell. By permission of Rodale, Inc. Available wherever books are sold.