Paradise Undone

My Dad was part of a small group of people who together owned 130 acres of
a wonderful mixture of hardwood forest, meadows, hillside and creek bottom.
I have meandered that part of Mother Earth since I was old enough to trek
out on my own, probably around age 10. We called this woods “the Rock Creek
woods”.

A big part of the majesty of the woods on the steepest hillside was the
mixture of many thousands of oaks and hemlocks in various stages of
maturity, including some old, grandfather trees. These two tree species
seemed to enjoy each others company, and grew in patches of their own kind
as well as a random oak or hemlock growing side by side.

Because the woods had not been logged in many generations, there were old,
decaying trees lying here and there on the forest floor, becoming nurse
logs for other various emerging scrub and young trees of all sorts. Beech
and hickory could also be found here, and a generous sprinkling of maples
rounded out the majority of the trees to be found.

If one were to traverse this hillside from top to bottom, no doubt with at
least a few episodes of feet slipping out from under due to the steepness,
you would every 50 yards or so come to a place of leveling out for perhaps
50 or 75 feet. These “shelves” as I came to know them provided texture to
the landscape, as well as convenient resting places. Standing or sitting on
the shelves gave the greatest view left or right, as they ran as far as the
eye could see, that is until various trees blocked that view.

I spent hundres of hours in this woods. More than once I had encounters
with other beings there that impacted me and have stayed with me for life.
One such time, I was standing still next to a large hemlock, gazing out
over a shelf, looking left and right. Quietly, with no evidence of
approach, a great horned owl landed on a branch of that tree about eye
level, maybe 6 feet from where I stood. Another time I was up in a tree and
a mother black bear and two cubs walked by me about 15 feet away, never
having any awareness of my presence.

There came a time when the owners of the property were approached by a
logger. He was interested in harvesting the mature timber. Because of taxes
and other ongoing expenses, the owners decided to sell the trees to this
logger. I knew that this even would change what I had come to view as my
own personal cathedral forest. I had no idea.

The next time I entered the woods, I am sure my mouth dropped open in
amazement and sadness at what my eyes saw. The steep hillside was carved up
and down, this way and that with newly created logging “spurs”, a means for
the bulldozers to haul out the newly cut logs to a staging area. These new
spurs were cut deeply into the earth, exposing raw soil and combined with
the steepness of the hillside, allowing for rain to wash out many channels
and much topsoil in the process.

The ”useless” tops of the harveste trees lay all over, discarded like
carcasses, obscuring the ability to see any distance and making walking
through the woods a serious challenge. All of the mature trees had been cut
down and their valuable sawlogs removed, leaving weeping stumps and broken
neighboring trees as casualties.

The feelings of grief that welled up in me in those first days was nearly
overwhelming. I had recently read Lord of the Rings, and I could not help
but think of Mordor. My cathedral woods had been turned into a deeply
wounded part of the back of Mother Earth. There was a part of me that
clearly felt my own grief in a way I had never known. I know now that this
grief went well beyond my own personal grief. My lifelong, deep connection
to the trees and especially to this particular piece of the earth revealed
to me that these relatives, too, were grieving. I could literally feel the
loss of something immeasurable, something beyond words, a loss that was
shared by far more beings than just me. The owl would need to find other
areas to hunt and lite. Momma bear would not find the same kind of shelter
here that she had in the past. My continuing forays into this woods
revealed that the foxes and the deer and the coyotes and the grouse cared
less for this woods now that it was changed.

It has probably been about 10 years now since I walked that particular
woods. I did spend a lot of time there even after the logging took place.
Each time I did so, my grief was renewed again, though perhaps slightly
less so. I still had similar (but different) nearby woods to trek, and this
soothed to some degree. Still, the loss of Rock Creek woods as I knew it,
as it was in my growing up years, my teens, my twenties and into my
thirties, is real. I’ve not seen a woodcock since the woods was logged.
I’ve not seen a silver fox, nor had a pileated woodpecker visit me from 2
feet away, sharing in a short staring contest. My grief continues. I
sometimes wonder how the grief of the trees, the four leggeds, the winged
ones, the Earth in that place is healing. I suspect that for some of our
relatives from that place, the grief is ongoing.

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