David Paul Bayles’s talk, “From Chainsaw to Camera: A Life with Trees,” was the first one I attended at the SPE NW regional conference last month, and it made an impression. Bayles is an engaging speaker, and the work from each of his projects that he presented was so beautiful. I particularly responded to the story Bayles told about the land where he lives in the Coast range of western Oregon, which was affected by a windstorm after a neighbor clearcut their portion of the forest. When I approached Bayles about featuring his work here, I was pleased to see that the statement he provided is a nice summary of what I heard him say.

From the artist’s statement: The images in “Working Forest” are part of a larger body of work that is informed and inspired by my physical and spiritual relationship with trees.

Two years after a neighbor clearcut their portion of the forest where my wife and I live, a fierce windstorm ripped apart, uprooted and toppled 120 of our trees. A few of them hit our house. Foresters call this Catastrophic Windthrow.

It was catastrophic for us. At first we wanted to sell and move away. We decided to stay and heal the land we love.

After carefully lifting the logs over the fragile stream, we milled the logs into lumber and transformed our rusted steel barn into a beautiful studio and workshop space. Working with the crews through each step in the process was cathartic for me.

After the last workers left I laced up my boots again, but this time I headed up the hill and into the clearcuts with camera and tripod. I’ve always opposed clearcutting and view them as assaults to the eye and to the land, but now I wanted to look at what comes after the clearcut.

Working forests have three distinct phases, and from some vantage points all three are layered in a rolling mosaic. Phase one is the clearcut. The burn phase begins after the clearcut when the limbs are piled into cone shapes and burned in the fall and early winter. With spring comes phase three, when the Doug Fir seedlings are planted. In forty years or so the trees will be clearcut again.

As industrialized landscapes these forests are amazingly efficient. I struggle emotionally and philosophically with the process. What have we lost since replacing diverse wild forests with controlled, predictable tree farms?

Visit artist's site: davidpaulbayles.com