The other night I dreamed that I was returning enthusiastically to a great forest I had once known. As I rounded a bend or came uphill I saw in place of that grand forest only a vast and horrible plain. It was a straw yellow, though I do not dream in color. Everything had been clear-cut. I awoke from the dream, startled.

I have had forests in mind lately, historical forests and especially lore about hermits who have dwelt in them. That hermits have enjoyed forests in virtually every culture and tradition is convincing enough to persuade the solitary to appreciate the landscape of solitude. Forests are one example.

But I have been thinking about contemporary forests, wild places, and public lands, too, and how quickly they are disappearing around the world. We know the consequences to animal and plant habitat, the relationship to global warming, to agriculture, cattle-grazing, commerce, consumption, and to the fate of indigenous peoples. But society is powerless to act, paralyzed by its own greed and inertia.

Ultimately, the destruction of forests represents the destruction of solitude. Humanity at large has failed to understand its place in the world and in the universe, and the role of solitude. Regardless of one’s tradition, the forest is a both a resource and a treasure, but like Chronos devouring his children, humanity consumes itself and whatever it does not understand. Despite the many cultural (and religious) explorations of forests, all collective attempts to redress the pace of self-destruction fail, leaving only anecdotal voices through time, and nondescript scientists and environmental advocates, among others, today.

For the worldly, the demise of forests and wild places is an abstraction, something distant, irrelevant. But for the solitary, who has the mental tools in reach for understanding the place of forests and wild places for solitude and the well-being of the human psyche — let alone the well-being of all creation — this fateful demise is full of sadness. We must pity the ignorant and the violent. But there is no clearer contrast between wisdom and folly.