Skip to content

Chopping wood, making politics (Oct 2010)

I have concluded that Latvia is the best place in the world to chop wood. I can’t prove it, but that doesn’t diminish my intense passion, conviction, and addiction to the art of slamming an axe into a load of logs and turning it all into firewood.

If you sit at a keyboard or tap away at your mobile phone all week, hoisting an axe above your head in the middle of a mossy, fern-filled forest can be quite exhilarating. Especially, if you are doing it in a place where the webs are still run by spiders and the endless twitters you hear are coming from feathered friends flittering about the sun-streaked tops of Kurzeme’s golden pines.

For those who rely on firewood for heat and cooking, chopping wood is a perpetual fact of life. It is something you must do on a regular basis if you want to keep the fireplace roaring and the kettle boiling. In the halls of government in Rīga they talk about heating the economy, but throughout Latvia’s countryside, heating the household this winter is the top priority. That, and making sure that there is something to cook in the pot.

Politics and forest management have a lot in common. It’s no big surprise that a forest worker might look upon the recent parliamentary elections in Latvia as political expression of what he does every day on the job. Dead wood is cleared away, overgrown patches are thinned out, and new seedlings are planted to replace the trees that have been cut down.

In the forest, it’s an endless cycle of endless recycling, just as in politics. But sound management requires just the right balance. If you clear away too much, the forest dies, and if you don’t clear enough, it chokes and stagnates.  According to the last count, 59 of the 100 deputies that will serve in the 10th Saeima (parliament) of Latvia are serving for the first time.

That’s because in Latvia’s proportional parliamentary voting system, voters not only select which party they wish to support, but can pick and choose who they want in and who they want out. Last week, Latvia’s voters used the plus-and-minus system to clear a lot of old growth from Latvia’s stately parliamentary forest.

During one of the pre-election debates, one opinionated pundit claimed Latvia had too many trees per capita and asserted that an excess of forest served no useful human purpose. Most Latvians who spend their holiest holidays around bonfires in the middle of fecund forests would probably disagree. About trees, that is. Politicians are a different matter. They can go.

And in a healthy democracy, politicians, like trees, constantly come and go. Some get hit by lightning, others get chewed up by busy beavers, and some get sacrificed to the flames to stoke the economic fires. It’s a circular cycle that’s good for the environment and also makes life better for the people who live in it.

So why, you may ask, is Latvia the best place in the world to chop wood? I could talk about the smell of the fresh-cut Rīga pine, praise the brisk Baltic breezes that stir the leaves of our lofty birches, or direct your attention to the plaintive calls of the cranes as they dance their mating dances through our lush green fields.

Then again, I happen to be a person who thinks Latvia is the best place in the world, period, so for me doing anything here is a lot more interesting than anywhere else. Especially chopping wood.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *