Here is a sad and hopeful story of the church forests of Ethiopia.
The land outside the church forest looks like desolation to me. So stark. Where’s the grass? I’m accustomed to the high valleys of Appalachia. I wonder, how did the land become like this? What processes keep it that way? In Highland County, the valleys are, for the most part, pasture for sheep and cattle. They keep saplings from growing, but the land is still green. Is it climate? Was it that the movie was filmed in February? (Yes.) What does the landscape look like with the plague of locusts? Can we ever understand the history and circumstances of another place when we can barely understand our own? A summary is just a start.
Either way, a missing forest saddens me. I’m glad Alemaheyu Wassie Eshete is taking care of what he loves.
“A church without a forest is like a naked person. A disgraced person.”
I like the thought that a church without a forest is somehow incomplete. Growing up around churches, their yards were as much part of the church as the building. My earliest memories are the smell of the sanctuary’s old wood and playing in piles of leaves. And climbing trees. Perhaps that’s why I felt like Sycamore Church in Loveland, Ohio, disappeared when I heard they’d sold their adjacent land.
“These forests are not just good for people,” Alemayehu said, “they are also the last shelter for wild animals. In our tradition, the church is like an ark. A shelter for every kind of creature and plant. If a wildcat or little kudu or vervet monkey leaves the church forest, immediately he will be killed. Here the animals are safe.”
Surrounding the cathedral at Canterbury, in its precincts, are gardens. If it weren’t for this COVID-19, I probably would not have looked far afield for morning and evening prayers, and they would not have been saying them daily outside in the garden where we can hear the gulls and see the cats drink the milk for the Dean’s tea.
“In this world nothing exists alone,” he said. “It’s interconnected. A beautiful tree cannot exist by itself. It needs other creatures. We live in this world by giving and taking. We give CO2 for trees, and they give us oxygen. If we prefer only the creatures we like and destroy others, we lose everything. Bear in mind that the thing you like is connected with so many other things. You should respect that co-existence.”
One of the dispiriting aspects of globalization has been the spread of a monoculture world-wide, particularly since it needn’t be that way: We do not need to voraciously consume everything in our path. Isolated pockets of true alternatives, not the false choice of twenty Pellegrino flavors offered by Nestlé, are useful–even if only to give a glimpse of the full breadth of life.
I forgot to exercise, I caught so caught up in learning about these forests. Maybe I should learn how to build a wall. 🙂
See also, among other places,
- Abbott, Alison. Biodiversity thrives in Ethiopia’s church forests. Nature. 30 January 2019
- Agriculture on the Ethiopian Plateau. NASA Earth Observatory, 2 January 2017.
- Borunda, Alejandra, and Kieran Dodds. Ethiopia’s ‘church forests’ are incredible oases of green. National Geographic, 18 January 2019.
- Cardelús, Catherine L., Colgate University
- Cardelús, Catherine L., Lowman, Margaret D., Wassie Eshete, Alemaheyu. Uniting Church and Science for Conservation. Science 24 Feb 2012: Vol. 335, Issue 6071, pp. 915-917. DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6071.915
- Cardelús CL, Woods CL, Bitew Mekonnen A, Dexter S, Scull P, Tsegay BA (2019) Human disturbance impacts the integrity of sacred church forests, Ethiopia. PLoS ONE 14(3): e0212430. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0212430
- Cardelús, C.L., Mekonnen, A.B., Jensen, K.H. et al. Edge effects and human disturbance influence soil physical and chemical properties in Sacred Church Forests in Ethiopia. Plant Soil (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-020-04595-0
- Dreher, Rod. The Amazing Church Forests Of Ethiopia. The American Conservative, 25 July 2020
- Hewitt, Sarah. The Sacred Forests of Northern Ethiopia. BBC Travel, 21 May 2019
- Lake Tana Biosphere Reserve
- Lowman, Margaret. California Academy of Sciences.
- Save the Church Forests of Ethiopia. Tree Foundation. https://churchforests.org/
- Scull, P., Cardelús, C. L., Klepeis, P., Woods, C. L., Frankl, A., and Nyssen, J. (2017) The Resilience of Ethiopian Church Forests: Interpreting Aerial Photographs, 1938–2015. Land Degrad. Develop., 28:450–458. doi:10.1002/ldr.2633.
- Bahnson, Fred, and Jeremy Seifert. The Church Forests of Ethiopia: A Mystical Geography. Emergence Magazine
- Min, Annika K. Forest Cover Change in South Gondar, Ethiopia from 1985 to 2015: Landsat Remote Sensing Analysis and Conservation Implications. University of California, Berkeley. (unpublished thesis)
- United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Forest Resources Assessment. 2020.
- United States Federal Research Service. Ethiopia: A Country Study. 1991.
- Wassie Eshete, Alemaheyu. Bahir Dar University & Debre Tabor University.
- World Wildlife Fund. Biomes > Terrestrial Ecoregions > Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests > Eastern Africa: Ethiopia, extending into Eritrea.
- World Wildlife Fund. Biomes > Terrestrial Ecoregions > Temperate broadleaf and mixed forests > Appalachian-Blue Ridge forests