One Poem That Saved a Forest

How the friendship between a poet and a timber baron kept a grove of California redwoods from clear-cutting.


What can a single poem inspire?

What can one verse induce?

One poem can offer an outlet for healing.

A distinct lyric can allow connection to occur.

One poem can lead to the most unlikely friendship.



I’m Jacqueline Suskin.

The past four years I’ve performed Poem Store:

a public project that consists of exchanging on-demand poetry

about any subject, composed on a manual typewriter, in trade

for any donation.

I’ve done most of my work in Arcata at the Saturday Farmers Market.

I’ve lived in and around this northern California coastal town for

three years. The community embraced me and treated me as their

unofficial town poet.

I think of this place as the throne of the earth.

Where I go to wander through ancient forests, stroll the edge

of the continent and kneel along the lip of clear cold rivers.



Here I learned the language of landscape.

Here I became acquainted with a history

of harvest. Everywhere I looked the trees

were owned, considered a crop, nurtured

and prepared for our consumption.

Folks would camp high up in the old growth

redwoods trying their hand as saviors, but

nothing can stop the might of human need.

I wanted to know more about this system.

I wanted to look the whole of it in the eye

and ask it to transform. No matter how much

I read, no matter how many tree-sitters I

talked to, I still felt a huge section of the

equation missing. I still felt there was

something I could do that wasn’t being done.



This is Neal Ewald.

Neal is the Senior Vice President

of Green Diamond Resource Company.

Green Diamond is a five-generation family-owned

and highly controversial timber harvesting company

that possesses 400,000 acres of land in California.

Green Diamond has a reputation for its clear cut logging practices,

use of toxic herbicides, and issues with mass privatization

of land. Lesser known and hardly celebrated are the recent

sizeable adjustments the company has made, including receiving

a Forest Stewardship Council certification for improved

and responsible forestry


In 2010 at the Arcata Farmers Market

I wrote Neal this poem per his request

on the subject of

Being Underwater

Of all the things to do in life,

all landscapes to believe in,

all ways of proving anything is possible,

with the weight of water around us

we pay tribute to the finest possibility.

When below the surface

we take moments to look up and know

that be it waking life or not,

all the force of the world lies deep

and well in such an unknown place


This poem inspired Neal to solicit another,

this time through the mail.

He sent me a package. Inside was a book.

He explained that he had lost his wife to cancer

and this was a collection of her correspondence

with friends and family for the five months

before she passed away.

He wanted me to study the book and then compose

a poem for him and his children to read as they

finally spread her ashes in the ocean.

He hadn’t been able to do this because he hadn’t

found anything that he felt was good enough for

such a moment. He didn’t want to choose a song

or a poem from an anthology. He wanted something

unique, something just for Wendy. When he met me,

he felt he’d been led to me for a reason.

I was to write this poem for his wife.



– Everything’s A Gift –

Here, we pay tribute to the teachers of wisdom.

All who choose to recreate the standard way of leaving,

who carefully furl away grief in the name of celebrating

the greater weave, who allow experience to shine as it should,

the beauty of all things held high and seen well,

even in the darkest of times.

It is these guides who recognize the fickle ways of the body,

knowing that all life is not had in the mind, who discover

the sturdy ground is in the kith and kin, in the loves

we nurture with the simple give and take that can only be had

through such constant connection.

It is these who settle on patience in the face of mystery

and misfortune, knowing that we are but provided with words

as explanations and everything’s a gift. And so beyond

trying to figure answers and find ends, we should instead

honor the circle we’ve been offered, allow for its turns

and delivery to come with grace and acceptance so that we

might leave it all behind knowing how perfect it was

in all directions.



It wasn’t until I composed and delivered

Wendy’s poem that I even realized who Neal was.

He holds the key to the forest

and there isn’t much that I care about more

than the forest. Neal presented a way for me

to be directly in service to the earth.

I was overwhelmed with the feeling

that we could collaborate and create change.


The Most Unlikely Pair:

The Poet & The Timber Baron.

Our friendship grew based upon the inherent trust

that comes from sharing such a intimate

experience. Our poetic exchange about Wendy

allowed for a comfortable and familial alliance.

We began having dinners, we started a book club,

I was invited to the Green Diamond walks in the woods,

and always every encounter was full of discussion.

We mused about the future of the company, what

revisions could occur, what the public needed

to know, what problems needed solving.

Neal expressed great interest in my ideas.

He listened enthusiastically and his intrinsic

desire to explore the unknown was very clear.

He never once seemed unavailable, never like

a fat-cat businessman, but a true seeker,

an open-hearted wonderer.


We created a shared language.

We developed themes to talk about each time

we saw one another: Grief, Activism, Poetry,

Women, Love, Corporate Accountability, Polarity,

Native Americans, Environmentalism, Dehumanization.

We shared inspirations and lessons:

I read stories about his father.

He taught me how to shoot guns and use a chainsaw.

We made plans:

I would help him create a permaculture homestead

design for his personal land. We would swim

in the ocean on anniversaries and honor Wendy

together, spreading lilies in the water,

and I would recite her poem.


Above all we focused on one word: yes

Neal is dedicated to the discovery of how to say

yes. He wants to disrupt the concept that there

needs to be opposition. Throughout his career

in forestry he has strived to find a way to

dismantle dichotomy and meet his adversaries

in the middle.

This is extremely difficult when your opponent

chooses not to view you as a human being,

but simply as greedy and power hungry.

Green Diamond is a business

and Neal’s job is to run this business.

If only objectors could form requests that he

could say yes to instead of far fetched

demands that fail to leave room for his connection

to his career. Neal is passionate about living

outside of the box. He is available, although

under the construct of his position, and he does

have a Yes Zone as he likes to call it.

He wants to experiment and do things differently.



Perhaps my experience with Neal could have ended up with the deep

exchange we had over the poems I created for him. If that were

the only outcome of this connection I’d be completely satisfied.

To see how those poems brought him healing was enough.

But because of our trusting relationship, something else occurred.

The history of the McKay Tract, a piece of land that contains

a grove of old growth redwood in Cutten, CA, is much too complex

for me to tell here. Folks have dedicated years of their lives

trying to preserve this forest. A young man named Farmer was the

voice of this particular protest. He had been covertly living in

the trees for a long time. He hated Green Diamond. Yet, with

Farmer I saw a possibility in his passion. After various promptings

and considerable conversation, with my support Farmer took the

initiative and reached out to Neal.

After a few in-depth meetings an arrangement developed.

Green Diamond was already working on plans for the McKay Tract

and Neal saw this common thread of interest as a way to connect

with his adversaries. These two rivals figured out how to meet

and discuss the forest while avoiding dehumanization. It didn’t

matter that they disagree about so many things. They chose to hear

one another, to consider each other’s perspective and not simply

made demands. They worked within one another’s Yes Zone.

The McKay Tract will not be cut.

The nonprofit Trust for Public Land is working on turning

a great deal of it into a community forest. This agreement

caused a new communion, no matter how subtle. Forest protesters

were able to see Neal’s willingness. They can now credit his

character and his obvious wish to say yes.

In each conversation I have with Neal he likes to remind me

that this change occurred because of us and our discussions.

I follow it all the way back to the fact

that a single poem created a spark.



With this story, a reminder bursts brilliantly

before us all. This is that age-old concept

that one person can truly make a difference.

May we remember that everyone holding a place

of power is still simply human. They may be

grieving, they may be in need, they may be sitting

with an ache that only we can help ease. They may

be nothing like the picture that society paints

of them and they may want to do something


This post originally appeared in Yes! 

By Jacqueline Suskin

Jacqueline Suskin is a writer, performance poet, and artist based in Los Angeles. She is the author of two books, the latest titled Go Ahead & Like It, available from Ten Speed Press of Penguin Random House. Known for her ongoing work with Poem Store, Suskin composes on-demand poetry for customers who choose both a topic and a price in exchange for a unique verse. Poem Store has been her main occupation since 2009 and has taken her around the country with her typewriter in tow.