Mountain rescue // Poland
Thirteen weeks have passed since the last break, since the last resupply. Then came Europe. The challenge of crossing the continent has left its imprint on our tires, a little more worn; and on our legs, a bit more bulky. Any other trace got dissolved with greater or lesser difficulty under the hot water.
The invisible marks are the ones that have the greatest impact though. Ingrained memories of thousands of kilometers added to the sporadic encounters with the inhabitants whose paths happened to cross with ours.
“… the same threat (…) loomed over another pristine forest…”
North of Spain, France, Germany and finally Poland, from end to end.
When we finally reached our goal yesterday, it was already dark, and through the fog we could barely make out the details of the Turnica camp.
Now, the first view I have when I open my eyes is the steam of my own exhalations slowly ascending towards the green canvas roof, in a still unknown tent.
On one side, fast asleep despite the cold, Agnes is snuggled in her sleeping bag with only the tip of her nose poking out. On the other, mountain backpacks, raincoats, thermos flasks and walkie-talkies. By the door, ready to use, padded pipes, carabiners and ropes.
All these elements bring me back in time, several years ago, when the same threat that today has brought us here, loomed over another pristine forest rooted in the Polish soil.
I wander through flashbacks of sabotage and arrests, until fine rays of golden light begin to filter inside the tent. Outside, the sun rises over the hills, melting the frost on the vegetation.
In the same direction, somewhere within ten kilometers, lies the Ukrainian border; and a little further south, as the migrating cranes fly, Slovakia.
It is the beginning of a new autumn in the Carpathian mountains… and perhaps the last one for many beings that inhabit them.
“… a new autumn in the Carpathian mountains…”
“… nobody is authorized to testify what is happening here.”
The chainsaws began to roar shortly after dawn. Then we could move.
Until the operators start working it is impossible to know where they will be logging each day, but once they commence, the sound reveals their exact position.
To avoid bad press, most forest trails have signs forbidding access, so crossing them carries huge fines. Except the authorities, timber companies and hunters; nobody is authorized to testify what is happening here.
The dismembered bodies of hundreds of beech, birch, and larch are piled up everywhere on what used to be the forest floor. Agnes, outraged by the vision of what is happening in her own country, begins to whisper:
“Shocking… just shocking. The transition from a healthy natural forest behind us to the scarred devastated space ahead is horrifying. I mean, just a few hundred meters before we spotted an ural owl snuggling between the branches and now, now we are in this… disaster zone wading through the mud up to our knees!”
A mud in which you can find both wolf tracks and puddles polluted by tractor fuel.
“This is exactly why we are here and why everybody should be coming here too. To see it with their own eyes. To bear witness. To realize that by not raising our voices of objection, we are actually giving permission for this to be happening.”
“… from a healthy natural forest (…) to the scarred devastated space…”
“… there is only one valid answer: direct action.”
On the verge of being declared a national park in 1995, Turnicki remains unprotected to this day by opposition from the local population and the regional government, whose economy depends heavily on the income from hunting and logging.
The park’s antagonists follow a strategy that is as simple as it is effective: the sooner the biological diversity that distinguishes the ecosystem disappears, the sooner it is impeded from being protected.
A reasoning that they deliberately put into practice and against which there is only one valid answer: direct action.
At the northern end of the Carpathians, a group of people is determined to defend the mountains, regardless the weather conditions, fines or threats.
But they need help, your help.
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