Sunday, November 12, 2006

The War on Terra

I was awake early and pushed myself to get out of bed, knowing that a couple of hours on Moose Hill would be more valuable than an extra hour of lounging in bed. It was another beautiful, clear and unseasonably warm morning for mid-November and I knew there wouldn’t be many more days like this for a long time.

I decided to explore an area I’ve passed scores times on the road but have never explored up close on foot. Along Moose Hill Street, near Walpole Street is a large old hayfield. I often see deer feeding there and have also seen turkeys with their young poults hunting in the tall weeds. I thought I would walk through the woods that border this field and maybe scare up some game while I was at it. When I see these larger animals in the wild, it reminds me even more clearly that we share this world with other creatures that have needs that can’t be ignored.

The woods were nice enough, but I didn’t feel drawn to them. Perhaps it was too dark under the many white pines growing there. There were also signs of the kids who visit from the near-by houses and leave their beer cans and other trash. I can’t put a finger on it, but I just didn’t feel like spending my precious moments there.

I did find what I think is a kettle pond. This large pool of stagnant water sat it the bottom of what looks like a sink hole; a deep depression in the landscape with no inlet or outlet. It was likely formed when a large block of ice buried in a jumble of glacial debris melted to create this big bowl in the forest. It’s not always easy to interpret the effects the ice age had on the New England landscape, but all these millennia later, the effects are still evident everywhere. Those who dismiss the significance of global climate change might do well to sit by one of these features for a while and think about it.

Among the white pine (Pinus strobus), I also found a few pitch pine (Pinus rigida). This is the tree of the pine barrens of the Northeast, most notably the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Unlike the dwarf twisted barrens trees, these three-needled pines were tall and relatively straight as a result of competing with their five-needled cousins on this soil that is much richer than those in the sandy barrens.

Not finding a suitable place to have breakfast, I found my bike and went back up the hill to a place I visited in July (See “The Empty Nest,” July 13, 2006.). A gated water tank access road climbs the hill through an oak forest and I thought I would find the same rock I enjoyed in July, and maybe see the turkeys I saw crossing this road while jogging here a couple of weeks ago. I like to sit on a rock that affords a view over a broad expanse of forest in the hope that I will see birds and other wildlife as I have my sandwich and coffee. I haven’t yet seen much that is large or dramatic, but I often find that even little things can give me things to think about.

On this morning, the woods were quiet. Not even a chickadee came by to see what I was up to. Gentle breezes where plucking the last of the oak leaves from the canopy above me. It was so quiet, I could hear individual leaves hitting the forest floor around me. Suddenly, from the direction of the houses I sought to avoid earlier, I heard a gas-powered leaf blower fire up. This loud whine is becoming the new sound of the American suburbs and it drives me crazy. I can’t imagine that the neighbors were too delighted to hear this din before 8:00 on a Saturday morning either, unless the roar makes them feel a sense of order and tidiness is being restored to the neighborhood after the dreadful plague of falling leaves descended on them.

A couple of weeks ago, I was working on an outdoor project in my neighborhood. From my perch on a ladder, I saw a man across the street return home for the evening. The first thing he did was get out his gas leaf blower and blast the few leaves that had fallen on his driveway and walk. He didn’t pick them up, bag them, or collect them in any way. He simply couldn’t stand to see them littering his asphalt. It seems that some people love their pavement the way others love their lawns.

From my rock in the woods, I thought about the leaves falling around me and how they would return to the soil that gave them life to enrich it and feed millions of tiny organisms. I thought about the leaves in the neighborhood below being ripped from their resting places by power machinery and wondered why we fight so hard against nature. I have fond memories of leaves burning in the fall, but I understand why we don’t do that anymore. I don’t have any good memories about bagging leaves in plastic and sending them to landfills and am glad we don’t do that anymore. Nowadays, some of us still actually rake our own leaves by hand and put them in paper bags to be collected and composted by the town. If leaves must be removed, I think the best way to do it is to compost them on site. This way, fossil fuels aren’t burned to transport them and the resulting mulch can be used around the yard.

My time was up, so I loaded my pack and walked my bike down the access road. I paused to look at a small clump of cucumber trees (Magnolia acuminata). This species is not common in these woods, and they brought back fond memories of my college days. I’m not certain, but for some reason I remember this as the very first tree I studied in dendrology class over 30 years ago. I recall my excitement as I finally began to study a subject that would deepen my understanding of the woods I loved so much. I picked up one of the wilted brown leaves, cast off to fade and disappear like one of my memories. As I studied its pointy tip, I hoped my memories would continue to cycle through my mind and enrich it the way the elements of that leaf would enrich the forest.

I rode back up Moose Hill Street and as I approached the top I saw a big, black, heavy-tired pickup truck towing a big trailer with a tank of driveway sealcoating material. The driver paused and started backing up as if lost. He certainly looked out of place in this sanctuary area. The caretaker’s house he was in front of doesn’t even have a paved driveway. I really wonder about the practice of spreading this stinking goop on driveways. The volatile organic compounds that rise from the application of these petrochemicals can’t be good for the atmosphere, and the swill that leaches from these driveways can’t be good for the water. I don’t even think such coatings do much to protect the driveways. I guess some people just have an overpowering need for neatness and order at any cost.

I reached the top of the hill and started coasting down Moose Hill Parkway on my way home. I was thinking about why people might crave perfect lawns and perfect pavement. I wondered why some people would want to spend days on end being deafened by leaf blowers or would want to spend hours spraying toxic chemicals on blacktop. As if he could read my thoughts, the sealcoat guy almost blew me off the road as he roared past me down the hill, his tank of stinking black brew missing me by inches.


At 12:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Nowadays, some of us still actually rake our own leaves by hand and put them in paper bags to be collected and composted by the town."....You know, it's funny. I search my memories of growing up and I don't recall YOU ever raking. Only mom and occasionally myself and David if we were guilted into it. Sorry to have to call you out on that one, but the truth must prevail. We don't want your readers to think TOO highly of you now, do we??

At 4:34 PM, Anonymous Rhea said...

Thanks for the wooded tour. Have you read "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek"?

At 4:50 PM, Blogger I_Wonder said...

Yes, thanks for the tour. Do you ever remember a time when you didn't feel a sense of reverence for nature?

At 11:31 AM, Blogger MojoMan said...

Dear Anonymous: I would have loved to rake more leaves, but society demands that I spend my Sundays on the couch in my boxers, drinking beer, eating brand-name snacks, watching commercials and a little football and stock car racing between the ads. After all, who among us does not like NASCAR?

rhea: Thanks for the reminder about "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek." I have a copy and started it years ago, but never finished it. I'll give it another shot.

Paul: I've been drawn to nature as long as I can remember. That love has taken different forms over the years, and at times I've been a negligent lover, but the attraction has always been there. These days, I am trying to rekindle the flame.

At 1:54 PM, Blogger Lilly said...

Anonymous, hmmm? Harrumph! That's what we get for giving the kids our blogspot addresses! :-)

I've also been yanked from green space by the sound of chainsaws or other equipment used to tame (read that control) nature. But yesterday's flooding rains in the southern tier were a solid reminder of the power of the earth. We are not in control, no matter how we blow clean our asphalt. With 4 inches falling in 3 hours, the roads ran like rivers and the creeks flooded their banks. School was cancelled for today, which happily gives me the time to catch up on my favorite blogs!

At 11:49 AM, Blogger Julie Zickefoose said...

Leaf blowers and bug zappers, throw them all on the bonfire. I'm tempted to include snow blowers but they're good for elderly people who can't handle a snow shovel. And I must admit a fondness for our little Honda weed-whacker. Though in the wrong hands it can be appalling. We have people living along our county road who regularly weed-whack the little clumps of bluets and trillium that try to come up on their naked eroding bank next to the road. This guy whacks it down the to the bare soil. I have had to stop myself from climbing out of the car and taking him by the throat!
Last day of hunting season here and it's sunny and clear and I'm losing my mind. Thanks for your musings. I'm glad the "waste place" next to the soccer field was saved.


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