Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

I went trespassing last night. Just before dark, I snuck out to walk the half mile to the scene of an atrocity. It was a cloudy evening and the moon was only a sliver. If needed, I wanted darkness to be on my side as I attempted this dangerous mission. I was going where I was not - and would never want to be - welcome.

In reality, I knew this war was lost months or years ago, the decisive battles fought by expensive lawyers charging through town offices and meeting rooms. The defenses were weak, as many citizens collaborated with the enemy, hoping to save their own skins.

The scene of the conflict was once a beautiful hardwood forest. Right near the heart of our town, only a mile or two from Moose Hill, was about 12 acres (roughly estimated using Google Maps.) of rich woodland of oak, ash, birch and maple with scattered white pine and hemlock. Somehow, it had escaped development and it was sandwiched between two older residential neighborhoods. This was what would be known in forestry as a “good site;” the trees grew tall, straight and fast. Countless woodland animals made their homes here. Hundreds of birds nested there. In times now past, generations of neighborhood kids, no doubt, snuck in there to play in the woods. In November a couple of years ago, when I went to the fringe of this forest to empty a bucket of leaves I had cleaned from someone’s gutters, I was greeted by a majestic six-point whitetail buck.

This land will soon be the site of a brand new “Over-55” community. Our town is terrified of large new residential developments because our schools are always over budget and our real estate taxes are already very high because we have little commercial property to share the burden. The only thing scarier than a few new McMansions with two or four kids per household would be a low-income development with scores of common kids. The developer, no doubt, threatened the use of that option when seeking approval for this massive development. Because children would be excluded from this new community, with the exception of a localized NIMBY fight, no voice of protest was raised.

Last fall, in only about three days, the entire property was stripped of every standing tree. I won’t say “clear-cut” because, as a former forestry student, I know that clearcutting, when prescribed by a knowledgeable forest manager, is a valid silvicultural technique that leads to the regeneration of a healthy and valuable even-aged forest. No, this forest was stripped and decimated with no plans to re-grow any living thing. It looked like the assault was made as quickly as possible so no defense could be organized. They need not have worried; no whimper was heard.

This spring, the earth-moving began. My objective last night was to see what was left of the woodlot. I walked down a street paralleling the lot and started from the back, working my way out to the main road. It seems the plan is to level the property in preparation for a new road and sites for the buildings. This is land sculpting on a geologic scale. Not since the Pleistocene when the glaciers last plowed this area has this ground been more raw and disturbed. This looked more like a lunar landscape than New England. As I navigated the quarter mile from the back of the property to the front, I discovered a large field of boulders that had been set aside. There were mounds of earth as tall as houses. Many, many truckloads of fill will be removed. As I slogged through the slimy mud from recent rains, I saw no signs of life. I saw, in fact, no organic matter at all. From boundary to boundary the ground is scraped clean. As this development is assembled, every green thing and everything it grows in will have to be imported, absolutely from scratch. Even a big old house and barn are gone without a trace.

I went to that place last night hoping to see some remainder of that lovely, old wooded glade, but all I found was greed. Not only the body, not only the soul, but the graves and the ghosts of that forest are gone. The affluent retirees that move in there will never know what was destroyed for their comfort. Who would want to live in such a soulless place? Clearly, the developer cared nothing for the ecosystem he was ravaging. How can a man crave profits so much that he would so hungrily and totally obliterate such a lovely place? Our town has set aside some wonderful conservation land, and we can’t save everything, but this sort of exploitation, with such total disregard for the natural world should never be tolerated. My heart was heavy as I walked back onto the hard, busy street and headed for home.


At 1:38 PM, Blogger GreenmanTim said...

Tears at your gut, doesn't it? One of many appalling things about this situation you describe is that an "active adultu" community such as the one that is slated for this site can be designed without ripping out every root and twig. Big, mature trees can be integrated into a development with substancial "natural areas, even one on 12 acres. Thjis brutal and unimaginative development not onloy destroyed the lovely woodland that was formerly there but invites a host of invasive plants that love disturbance (tell me the new topsoil is weedfree...) and will need heavy management and chemicals to maintain as lawn or whatever landscaping is intended. A crying shame all around.

At 12:15 PM, Blogger robin andrea said...

It is a shame, isn't it? How could they be so uninventive, they couldn't even figure out how to save a tree. It is possible, as greenmantim mentions, to integrate these trees into new developments. But always the people making these decisions think like Ronald Reagan did: You've seen one redwood, you've seen them all.

Makes me think of Joni Mitchell's song:

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone.
They paved paradise and
Put up a parking lot.

At 12:43 PM, Blogger MojoMan said...

Thanks for the comment, Tim. I've been enjoying your blog. It offers a wealth of information in many different areas, and a great spirit as well.

Thanks Robin Andrea! I almost put in something about paving Paradise and tree museums. I also thought about RR and what Ansel Adams said: "These people know the price of everything and the value of nothing."

At 3:02 PM, Blogger Wenda said...

Well, that's making a difference in the world, isn't it, where a "do no harm" motto was certainly ignored. Ouch.

At 9:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mojo...

I assume you're being tongue-in-
cheek about the "low income devel-
opment with scores of common kids."

Hey, i've got mine--NIMBY and
proud of it!

Cheers, Marci

At 8:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mojoman, I clicked on the link in your post to me over at the Breaktime forum. You've got some fine essays here. You gonna come up to the BikeFest next month?

Allen (WNYguy)

At 1:09 PM, Blogger CabinWriter-- said...

When I saw the area around Walden's Pond clearing for new construction, I could only think of the disgrace of senseless men driven by money to destroy history and replace beauty of the countryside with meaningless buildings. I saw this at Manasas,and in Vicksburg, MS, where the National Park has shrunk. Voices of old must be screaming. We're to only listen to hear their cries.


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