Let’s Make a Forest!
By “Awake!” correspondent in West Germany
WHEN one author called Germans the “forest people,” he may have had in mind that the life of the old Germanic tribes was deeply influenced by the huge forests that once covered their land.
The ancient Roman historian Tacitus wrote about one Teutonic or Germanic tribe: “At a stated time of the year, all the several people descended from the same stock, assemble by their deputies in a wood; consecrated by the idolatries of their forefathers, and by superstitious awe in times of old. . . . And of all their superstition, this is the drift and tendency; that from this place the nation drew their original, that here God, the supreme Governor of the world, resides, and that all things else whatsoever are subject to him.”—Germania.
The virgin forests provided the Germanic peoples with wildlife on which to feed, skins with which to clothe themselves and wood for making utensils and for building their homes. At the same time the “gloomy forests,” as Tacitus called them, instilled within the people dread and respect. This misled them into considering some trees, such as certain oak trees, as especially holy. According to Germanic mythology: “The universe is supported by a great ash tree, Yggdrasill . . . The roots of the tree Yggdrasill grow through every world of living and dead. It is watered from a sacred well at its foot, where . . . ‘Destiny,’ decides the fates of men. Lifegiving, meadlike dew falls on the earth from its branches, and a goat that pastures on its leaves gives mead for the gods to drink.”—Encyclopædia Britannica.
But in the course of centuries the Germans’ attitude toward their forests has changed considerably. Whereas formerly the forests were sometimes considered frightening or mysterious, now they are recognized as being valuable. They are assets upon which modern civilization’s very existence is based. For this reason they are to be cherished, cultivated and protected. The book The Forest says: “Today we know the forest as an important source of building materials and a vast reservoir from which modern technology can derive a virtually unlimited number of valuable products such as paper, plastics, turpentine and alcohol.”
But the forest is more than that. This book continues: “The forest is much more than a warehouse for man’s material needs. Its protective covering is renowned as a conservator of soil and water and as a moderator of local climate.” An article in a German newspaper illustrates the point: “Eighty-seven deaths have been caused by a flood catastrophe in four southern provinces of Thailand. Six persons are missing. More than a thousand homes and twenty-four schools are either under water or have been swept away. As a result of the Interior Department’s announcement, the government has attributed the extent of the flooding, which was preceded by torrential rainfall, not least of all to the extensive land-clearing projects that have been carried out in the south of the country during the past years.”—Wiesbadener Kurier, Thursday, January 9, 1975.
Learning How to Do It
The foregoing report is but one of many proofs. They show that man’s unrestricted exploitation of natural resources has resulted in his having, figuratively speaking, cut off the limb on which he is sitting. It was not until the eighteenth century, however, that this was fully realized in Germany. For example, during the early days of industrial development large sections of woodland were cut to provide firewood for glassmaking. Yet even at that time some farsighted men warned of the danger of turning the land into a treeless prairie. Forestry schools were founded and scientific reforestation was started.
The approximately 2,500 square kilometers (some 965 square miles) of lignite on the west side of the Rhine River between Cologne and Bonn illustrates what can be done to keep the earth fit for human habitation. Lignite (or, brown coal) is mined above ground, and such open-pit or strip mining leaves behind a moonlike landscape of huge craters. Thus here was an unusual opportunity for creating an entirely new landscape, doing so not only for economic reasons but also for practical ones, such as its becoming a recreation area. But just how do you ‘make a forest’?
Healing the wounds incurred by surface mining meant first of all the preparing of a soil conducive to the needs of a forest, providing: (1) variety in mineral content, (2) looseness in texture, and (3) sufficient oxygen content by means of aeration. A so-called forest gravel, a mixture of sand, gravel, rocks and loess, met all three requirements. Along with the tree seedlings, lupines, plants of the pea family, were planted to enrich the raw soil. They prove valuable in three ways: Adding nitrogen to the soil; protecting the ground from the sun’s heat, thus preventing it from drying out; and, lastly, preventing the blowing away of fallen leaves that contribute to the formation of humus.
At first, those attempting to make a forest had to learn by experience, for the ecological interbalance between the plants of the forest was not as well understood as today. They did recognize, however, that fast-growing poplar trees would be well suited to serve as pioneer types for reforestation. However, a mono-culture of nothing but poplars could be dangerous. It could encourage the multiplication of certain kinds of insects that could then destroy the entire culture. Planting more than one type of tree was therefore best.
The soil that was prepared proved to be so good that it allowed for planting a variety of trees. A combination of beech and larch trees, interspersed with poplars, was used. Since poplars grow the fastest, they served as a protective covering for more delicate types of trees. Poplar, alder, locust, and willow trees all have good root systems, for they require a great deal of water. How is that useful in making a forest? Well, their roots help to hold the soil firm and prevent soil erosion and landslides caused by water saturation. Using a variety of trees would later avoid barren spots when the mature trees were felled. A healthy mixture of various species is also the best for recreational purposes.
Today in this district of Germany thirty-six different kinds of trees are used in reforestation. A careful study of the conditions under which they grow and their relationship to one another has been made. Even the rare giant redwood and Sequoia trees, which apparently contributed a great deal to the formation of the extensive lignite deposits, are included in a special park. The picture is rounded out by eighteen types of underbrush, including the hazelnut and various kinds of wild roses.
Lakes artistically nestled into the landscape are part of every recreational area. But to take old mining pits and make them into lakes that can be used for swimming and water sports is no easy task. Before more complex forms of plant and animal life appear, the lakes are taken over by those small pioneers of microscopic plant life, the hardy, unpretentious algae. Then the shores are soon framed in reeds, cattails, bulrush, pondweed and water lilies. These are followed by animal life, water fleas, mussels and other living creatures that, in turn, serve as food when the lakes are stocked with fish.
The presence of the lakes even helped the bird population to become more varied than formerly. Marsh and water birds not found here before the lignite was mined took up residence. Before long this restored forest area was populated by species of feathered singers, all adding their contribution to the music that is so relaxing to listen to on an early spring morning. They also do their share in forest preservation by preventing too rapid multiplication of insects. When kept in balance, though, the insects also serve their purpose in building and maintaining a forest.
If you were to dig up a spadeful of forest earth, you likely would be surprised at the number of different creatures and life forms you would find. The Forest spoke of it as “the hidden world of the soil.” It told of an examination by scientists of the top one inch of forest soil. What did they find? “There was an average of 1,356 living creatures present in each square foot, including 865 mites, 265 springtails, 22 millepedes, 19 adult beetles and various numbers of 12 other forms. Had an estimate also been made of the microscopic population, it might have ranged up to two billion bacteria and many millions of fungi, protozoa and algae—in a mere teaspoonful of soil.”—Pages 131, 132.
How useful are these creatures in building a forest? Very. Without them the soil would not be nearly so productive. Moles, hedgehogs and the useful shrew also contribute to the ecological interbalance by controlling insects. And although you would have looked for them in vain on the slag heaps left by strip mining, they seem to feel right at home here in the forest.
In a forest we dare not forget our friends, the rabbit, the squirrel and the deer. It was not long before they, too, found their way back, contributing their part to ecological interbalance. Other arrivals were the fox, the marten, the badger and the polecat. These helped to keep the rabbit and other animals from overpopulating the area and severely damaging the young shoots of the trees.
Outlook for the Future
If you were to ask the many persons strolling down the paths of the well-kept forests of Germany why they enjoy the woods so much, you would no doubt get a variety of answers. Industrial society seeks relaxation in “nature” where the sounds are softer, the movements less hectic. Many persons especially enjoy the cleaner air, for it has been proved that the bark and leaves of trees clean the air by catching dust particles that are then washed down to the ground by the rain. The stillness of a forest, its predominant colors of green and blue, the soft whispering of the leaves, the babbling of a brook—how they calm the nerves, refresh the body and stimulate the spirit!
Many citizens therefore appreciate the fact that some officials are now more conscientious than formerly about seeing to it that trees are not needlessly cut down or woods felled. In accordance with officials’ wishes, the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in West Germany planned their new residence building in such a way that quite a number of young spruce trees on the property could be left standing. Thus the trees are a fine extension of the adjoining forest.
According to newspaper reports, vast numbers of persons are turning their back on religion and leaving the churches emptier than ever. Here in Germany many persons seem to consider taking a walk through the woods as their kind of “Sunday service.” They claim to feel closer to God in the forest than elsewhere. But they need to take care not to make the mistake of going as far as did their ancient ancestors, making nature into a kind of god.
A realistic reader of the “book of nature,” however, is continually amazed when he turns “page after page” and notices the complicated interbalance involved in the ecology of the forest. You can see relationships so hardy and stable that, if given only half a chance by man, they can work wonders. They can turn one-time slag heaps left over from strip mining into recreation spots. But there is also sufficient room for man’s creative and cultivating contributions.—Gen. 1:28.
No less than thirty different branches of science had a part in the reforestation of the Rhine River lignite area. All these scientists learned from the “book of nature” by observation and experience. The enslaving fear that the old Teutonic tribes had of forest spirits and demons is a thing of the past. Instead, increasing knowledge about forests fills us with deep respect for the great Creator, Jehovah God. He is the one who arranged for the marvelous interbalance found in the forest. He also has revealed in his written Word that the entire earth will soon be made into a real global paradise. Would you like to live to see God’s new system of things and perhaps help to make a forest?