Forgive Us Our Trespasses
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
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.