The woods

If I wereeeee kinggg of the foreeeesssst

A post that I will expand later:

The Europeans were amazed that Indians seemed to have no rules to limit the persons who could hunt. They believed that there was no order among the savage nations, and that a sing of this was that all males could hunt regardless of station. In Europe, of course, hunting had long been a militarized zone between the notables and the obscure – the rustic could not, legally, hunt. But such laws were as good as their enforcement, which was often ad hoc, and always corruptible.

My sense of the numerous small, seemingly discrete shifts in attitude and use that made the world, or nature, an object of use for “man” is not backgrounded by a nostalgic attitude attached to medieval common lands or the like. It is backgrounded, mostly, by the dream of Carpenter Shih, and similar moments in which the tears and breaks in the historical picture – in the canvas we think we know – let in unexepected lights, a steady small time dazzle. The knowledge that the intellectual history of the pre-modern is found as much in the thick underbrush of superstition, story and custom, protests to authority, letters, drawings, songs, as in philosophy or the writings of the Great Tradition.

When Marx saw that the forest laws around Koln were changing due to the pressure generated not within the state, but of powerful economic actors, he had the insight that this was a clue – a clue in a forest, a very Maerchen clue – to the changes wrought by the system of capitalism.

A similar change in forest customs swept through France in 1669, when Colbert reformed the laws on Eaux et Forets.

La Fontaine’s father had made his fortune, such as it was, as the superintendent of Eaux et Forets in Château-Thierry. Between the time of Francis I and King Louis XIV, the system of the masters of the forest – which rewarded the masters with a portion of the chopped down timber, as well as other lucrative rights – and regulations that had allowed for clearcutting regardless of the nature of the forest – had brought the forests of France into a sad state. Colbert, Louis’s minister, wanted oaks for the navy and reorganized the system. In this reorganization, communities and peasants lost out – as did the old, Falstaffian core of masters of the waters and woods. La Fontaine was one of them. By this time he was in his father’s post as Master of the waters and woods. In this position, he received a severe letter from Colbert on August 7, 1666, asking for an account of the wood being taken out of the wood for fuel and the ‘infinity of malversations’ happening in the forest. The tone was peremptory, and showed no sense at all that La Fontaine was anything more than a lazy, stupid, wayward servant of the King. And on all accounts, La Fontaine sold wood and took his share without much regard for the forest. Plus, like a good poet, he was perpetually on the run from creditors.