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Remember the Rainforest 1

 

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Etching 16 Cut forest from Martius's Flora Brasiliensis 1840. Thanks to Lehigh U., Special Collections ! Color by  C. Miranda Chor

#16 A cut forest, with an aged Ficus, near Santo Joao Marco in the province of Rio de Janeiro.

Latin translation by Ben Hennelly

Since the innate beauty and richness of the primitive forests has already been illustrated in many etchings, it did not seem inappropriate to present also an image of the devastation that the haughty hands of men inflict in those forests, when they attack them with iron or fire in order to open up space for new cultivation. So that this could be observed, we selected part of the Sebastianopolitan province where, while we were present, ancient forests were cut down with great violence and, as we often noted with pain, excessive carelessness and negligence. Just as the appearance of the untouched forest, which they call "Matto Virgem", has something of the divine about it that you might call chaste, so the primeval forests when they have been cut down appear demonic. (1)

For while you think upon nature's splendid magnitude and sublimity, humankind's covetousness interjects itself at the same time, which despises everything and leaves untouched nothing that might serve its purposes. Although this seems less bitter and harsh to those who consider that man is in a certain way prefect over nature, we nonetheless cannot but feel that he, as nature's unyielding master, reckons too little that it is his place, who has mind and reason, not to destroy heedlessly those things nature required centuries to produce, but rather, with the same parsimony as nature herself, to collect and gather those gifts gradually and consume them with caution and foresight. But this is not at all what happens in Brazil, whose cultivators do nothing else but demolish the ancient forests with flame and inhabit ground damaged in the very process. Since they act with great haste and carelessness in this matter, it is brought about that the noblest trees, which nature has through many years silently labored to raise high aloft, are destroyed forthwith by fire, and those things that, if rightly and wisely utilized, would have been great riches, disappear in a few hours' time, snatched away in smoke and flame. 

Given this opportunity, we cannot help but speak more expansively about the Brazilian method of agriculture, inasmuch as it aims principally to prepare those parts of the primary forests that, after consideration of the area, appear to individual farmers especially suitable for cultivation, so that, when the forest has been cut away and the timber burned, the earth can be sown with maizecottoncoffeesugarbeanscassava and other plants grown in the tropics. They generally set about cutting down the trees when the rains have stopped, work that either slaves perform or, where it is considered appropriate, indians undertake.

Phaseolus (bean plant)

 

Because of the trees' great size and the strength and density of their wood, oftentimes no small amount of labor must be endured; quite often several slaves consume an entire week in the work of felling a single tree. Indeed, when the lower trunk has been distended into the shape of a star, so that too great an area would have to be cut through with the axe, the timbermen are not able to stand on the ground; therefore, they frequently build a platform 10-15 feet high around the tree, on which they set to work, so that the trunk can be cut where it begins to take cylindrical shape. Work is hindered no less because the earth is moist, swampy or covered with mist.

Etching commentary #16