Russian logging in the 19th century from the 1873 book The Earth and her People

As one moves north of the River Danube and east of the Rhine, the oak woodland begins to give way to the Great Northern Temperate Forest that spans from Norway to the far reaches of Siberia and around the earth. In this vast area, the coniferous forests were once thought to be inexhaustible. There are 35 European species of Pinaceae, including pine, spruce, hemlock, and fir. Favored for construction are the Norway Spruce (Picea Abies) and Scots Pine (Pinus Sylvestris) but Aspen, Alder, Ash, Birch, Willow, and Larch are widely used for woodwork in general. In pre-Christian times the largest and oldest trees were venerated as gods. Fred Hageneder explains that “In the Slavic tradition, the goddesses of the woodlands… often inhabit firs, while the King of the Forest dwells in the oldest fir”. Wood-sprites and wild-men are the mythical personification of the forest and the hunt. They are shapeshifters and so may appear as elves, trolls, demons, giants, or as a satyr with horns and cloven feet.

            Forestry regulations appear early in Western Europe, where supplies began to diminish by the Middle Ages. Not so in the north, where the vast coniferous forest seemed endless. Forests were clear-cut rather than selectively logged, although individual trees may have been taken prior to an area being cleared. The dominant species of pine and spruce were quick to regenerate and fast growing, so that secondary forests produced useable timber within twenty-five years.

The Slavs were originally from the area northeast of the Carpathian Mountains and were, over a thousand years, gradually forced east and north by pressure from German tribes from the west and Mongol hordes from Central Asia. Originally centred in the mixed woodland around Kiev, Russian culture migrated to Moscow, and eventually to Novgorod, always deeper into the forest. James Billington describes the forest as an “evergreen curtain” that sheltered and protected the Russians from her enemies. Michael Williams notes that the Moscow area, until the 18th century, was described as “one huge forest”. To the North, reaching the Gulf of Finland and the shores of the White Sea, the ancient Russian Republic of Novgorod was known as Zeleskaia Zemlya or “the wooded land”.