Cleveland Comhrá: Crann na Beatha

Cleveland Comhrá: Crann na Beatha
By Bob Carney

Most of us are familiar with the ancient celtic image of Crann na Beatha, The Tree of Life. A visit to any Irish festival or boutique and you’re sure to find it’s image on clothing, jewelry and any number of items. It is a beautiful link to our Irish heritage reaches back many centuries. Depicted to symbolize the forces of nature coming together to maintain balance. The roots reach into the lower (spirit) world, while the crown or branches are stretching to the heavens and the trunk remains grounded to the earth.

To the celts and most early peoples, trees were extremely important, their very existence relied on the timber for fuel and shelter. The forest provided a home for deer and boar, which in turn provided meat and clothing.

The mightiest and most sacred was the oak. The celts believed them to be ancestors, a strong wise person was even said to have “oak wisdom.”

Trees were a connection to the spirit world. The Irish word for oak is dair, believed to be the origin of the english word door. Irish mythology is full of tales of a person falling asleep next to one of these doorways to the fairy realm and waking in their world.

In early settlements a tree was usually at the center, where rituals of birth, death and rebirth would be held. The oak represented wisdom, strength and longevity.

A few years back I read a book about the migration of peregrine falcons from Mexico, through the midwest and into Canada. The author related the story of the pilot he had contracted to fly him as he followed their flight. One day the pilot remarked how beautiful America was from the sky as they flew across the breadbasket of our country. He was taken aback when the naturalist agreed with him but pointed out that, without man, it would appear very different.

Forest City
A lot takes place before agriculture on a large scale can happen. Our own state of Ohio, had it been untouched by man, would be one large forest, one of Cleveland’s earliest nicknames was “The Forest City.”

Ireland today is approximately 11% forested, lower than the average European country, which is 30%. (The US has 36% coverage, roughly 818,814,000 acres, due to early and continuing conservation efforts)

Fairy Tree in Glencolmcille. Photo by Micki Ansberry

The Emerald Isle had near total destruction of it’s forests, due to human activity and changes in the climate following the last ice age, when coverage went  from 80% down to 1%. Initially the Irish State was responsible for the reforesting of Ireland to  decrease it’s timber dependency.
Today private individuals are doing the most to increase the coverage, government policy is to bring the number up to 17%. Co. Wicklow has the highest coverage and Co. Meath the lowest.

Most forests are 25 acres or less, and many are quite young. Timber is a renewable natural building material and with proper forestry management, is being looked at by property owners as a long term (think generations) investment.

Many conifers can reach maturity in a relatively short time, about twenty or thirty years. Illegal timbering is a different thing altogether; what is happening in Ireland is ecologically sound and should not be confused with the former.

A properly managed forest does not take the place of a natural occuring one, but offers many of the same benefits as far as carbon storage; an important benefit if we hope to slow climate change.

Species variety is considered as well to prevent an unbalanced ecosystem in the forest, so the mighty oak, which can take 100-150 years to mature, will still have a place in Ireland. In the book “The Hidden Life of Trees” the author, a forest manager, explains the “community” aspect of the forest.

The concept of balance in our environment is nothing new, even in more modern times. Alexander Von Humboldt observed the effects of man on the health of the land back in the early 1800s, during his five year expedition to South America.

His writings influenced Darwin, who carried copies of Humboldt’s books on the Beagle, and would expand on his theories and observations in “The Origin of Species.”  Our farmer, naturalist, president, Thomas Jefferson, met Humboldt and discussed the importance of balance in America’s farming future.

Effect on the Environment
“The road to heaven…”. With a growing nation and growing industry the immediate need took precedence over long term stability. In the April 2019 Ohio Irish American News, I related the events that led to the formation of The Clean Water Act and The Environmental Protection Agency. The growth towards a cleaner world since 1970, incuding our own Cuyahoga River, has been an amazing thing to see.

In May of this year I read an article concerning the positive affect the pandemic has had on the environment, even as it has been devastating in most other aspects. With transportation and industry down, global emissions have also fallen. Even if it’s only a temporary respite, it has given environmental scientists hope that implementing changes will slow the process of climate change down.

Since the pandemic began, however, the current adminstration has quietly been scaling back regulations for fuel efficiency in cars and trucks, air pollution standards from power plants, water pollution in streams and wetlands, expanded logging and drilling in Alaska and overiding state water pollution permits and liquified natural gas development. These are just a few of the things happening since the beginning of this year.

Granted many of these rollbacks will be heavily contested in the courts and some will be ignored by business’s with a global market (why build a vehicle you can’t sell anywhere else?). The concern is for the ones that get pushed into law.

In August, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced he would open the Artic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. Also in August, the administration removed regulations on oil and gas companies leaks of methane at drilling sites.

Even with a change of administrations or Democratic control of the senate, it would take a great deal of time and resources to rectify these changes that promote more emissions. A friend, who supports the current adminstration, told me,”Even if climate change is real, the EPA has become a bureaucratic disaster and has gone to far.”

As with any government agency, I suspect there is an element of truth in the second half of his statement. But I’m more inclined to think that somehow the wolf has managed to convince some of the sheep that the sheepdog is the problem.

If this issue is important to you, research your candidates and get out and vote.

Further Reading

  • “The Hidden Life of Trees” Peter Wohlleben
  • “The Invention of Nature” Andrea Wulf
  • “Views of Nature” Alexander Von Humboldt
  • “The Water Will Come” Jeff Goodell
  • “On the Wing: To the Edge of the Earth with the Peregrine Falcon” Alan Tennant

I hope we can all find balance in our lives, and with each other.

*Bob Carney is a student of Irish history and language and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland class held every Tuesday at PJ McIntyre’s. He is also active in the Irish Wolfhounds and Irish dogs organizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary, hounds Morrighán and Rían and terrierb Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be contacted at carneyspeakirish@gmail.com

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