Staying as I am inside Slovenia’s only national park (the Triglav), I’ve had a good look at the forest and natural surroundings. And at forest practices. Aka, logging.
What?!, you say. Logging in a national park?!
Yes. And what’s the problem?
There is no such thing as wilderness in Europe. Unlike in North America, with its huge spaces and thousands of square miles of “blank spots on the map”, in Europe everything is too close together, and people have been living everywhere for thousands of years. The idea of vast expanses of untouched nature would be a pure fiction here. But the result is arguably better and healthier in places than in the US, even if it isn’t technically as “wild” (which is a social construct, of course).
The American wilderness ideal imagines man as an alien, outside agent to nature – “a visitor who does not remain”, to quote the 1964 Wilderness Act’s definition of wilderness. The perfect American wilderness is behind the red velvet rope, and dirty humans stay out. American wilderness is way far away – out there.
The European wild lands ethos, in contrast, is more of an inhabited vision. Humans are an integral part of the wilds. Indeed they live there and make their living there. The wilds are close by – right here. They’re next to the highway, behind the school, around the ski area. And you better take care of them.
Sometimes I wonder which is the better approach. When done well, as in the Alps, inhabiting nature may be the better option. While the American ideal is technically more wild, the construction of nature as this other thing way far away also seems to allow much worse exploitation of it. Out of sight, out of mind. For example, it’s impossible to imagine the savage destruction of nature that is occurring currently in Canada happening in Europe. You couldn’t simply destroy half the continent, because people live there.
So here I am in a national park that, among other things, houses a world class cross country ski area. But doesn’t that somehow impair the natural surroundings? Doesn’t the development of the park somehow ruin its pristine setting? Again, as there is no such thing in Europe as pristine, that’s a non issue. But frankly the ski area works wonderfully well. It is exquisitely cared for and maintained, and it perfectly represents the Slovene spirit, which is in and of the alpine setting.
There is no division between city and wilds here. Slovenes whizz down the trail, breathing in their great country, then pop back into Ljubljana. And dare I say, seeing this, that I couldn’t help thinking about what an amazing cross country ski area Americans could build in Yellowstone? Of course it will never happen. But doing so, contrary to American wilderness dogma, could actually enhance the wilds – by bringing people into gentler, more frequent contact with nature. Once you do that, the people go home, but they take their wild lands ethos with them. And they treat nature better everywhere they find it – whether in a city park or the Alaskan outback.
Here are a few pictures of some logging on the road to the nordic centre. Back in the US timber wars of the 80’s, someone said something to the effect, if logging looks destructive to the environment, it is. Meaning you didn’t need to be a scientist to look at a clearcut and know that this was not a good practice. The converse is also true. Looking at the neatness, careful detail and small scale of the Slovenian logging operation, you instantly get that these people worship nature and know how to take care of it. Call it “white glove” logging. It’s a light touch, because they’re in it for the long haul and have been harvesting these woods for thousands of years.