Now that everyone's feeds have been flooded with typical Earth Day stock imagery of beautiful rolling hills, ocean waves, and lush trees, Photographer Joe Freeman takes a darker tone and shows us the harsh reality of what future generations will see if humanity continues on the same devastating path.
Freeman’s project, “Clearcut,” is a harrowing series showcasing trees cut down around 1917, when Keechelus Lake was dammed. The land resembles nature's graveyard, with stumps acting as grave markers for the ancient trees in the valley. Joe describes the area as "disorienting and potentially treacherous," as the land is riddled with numerous pits of quicksand.
Freeman describes the area as usually being underwater throughout the year as the reservoirs fill and empty for the Keechelus Lake. The submersion has been the primary reason the stumps and roots have survived for so long. Due to an abnormal dry spell, he was able to capture this haunting landscape, which he discovered while driving home to Seattle from an emotionally draining trip documenting the aftermath of wildfires east of the Cascades.
As I was approaching Snoqualmie Pass, I noticed a valley of stumps in the distance. At first, from the highway, they appeared quite unremarkable. I actually passed the off-ramp that leads to them, but something inside me wouldn’t let it go, so at the next exit, I turned around and headed back. I guess in that sense, you could say that the location chose me.
Keechelus Lake was dammed to regulate water flow for irrigating eastern Washington. Once the dam was in place, the water level rose, drowning the trees. It is thought that the thousands of trees were cut down for their economic value.
I think the haunting, sorrowful nature of these images is what makes the most impact. In other words, it’s not so much about a story, but more so an emotional state. This state communicates itself even without any awareness of the historical context or of how clearcutting affects the entire ecosystem.
Freeman was drawn back to the captivating scene numerous times over the course of the next couple months, being particularly fascinated by their human-like qualities.
Each one seemed to possess its own unique variations, just like people. Three or four grouped together evoked a family; two, a pair of lovers or a parent and child. At times, it appeared as though the stumps were holding onto each other, huddled together in the face of a certain doom they could not prevent.
During the months, Freeman became used to the constant sound of cars passing on the Interstate, but halfway through his project, I-90 was completely shut down for construction. The silence in the valley could be described as deafening, making every sound amplified. One evening, close to dusk, he heard the primal bellows of elk communicating from one corner of the valley to the other, almost making a haunting magical song.
Such a tension calls into play our culpability as agents of change and destruction. I hope that viewers respond with an increased awareness of the fact that the land is always communicating with us. Only by acknowledging this fact can we become more responsible environmental stewards.
All images used with permission of Joe Freeman.
[via National Geographic]