Whose Woods These Are
The fence that marks the property line between our farm and our neighbors’ woods is hardly a fence at all. Rusted wire drawn between fat lighter posts has, at various points, drooped into uncomfortable hammocks, and, at others, flattened itself completely on the pinestraw covered ground. I don’t know the hours that I have spent roaming those woods, picking my way carefully over fallen trees, ever on the look-out for, depending on the season, snakes and gopher tortoise beds. Vines stretch and curl from one tree to another creating in some places a canopy that turns the sunlight into dapple. Old timber roads are barely visible, but they – along with the knowledge that moss prefers growing on the north side of things – have always gotten me home on the occasions that my wandering has left me wondering and not paying a lot of attention to where I am. A couple of old deer stands, like the turrets on a castle, keep watch over all manner of small animals – rabbits and squirrels and foxes – to whom the woods belong. I understand that I am just a visitor. A friendly one, but still an interloper into their world. Occasionally, very occasionally, I have taken someone with me into the woods, invoking a quiet that not many people can maintain. The woods are not a place for words, for people who can not speak with their eyes. I took a couple of friends back there once and two deer, startled by our approach, ran within a couple of arms’ lengths of us. Even the friend who is a biologist was mesmerized by their proximity, their beauty. Proximity and beauty. They do not always exist simultaneously. And when they do, they are deserving of our attention, perhaps, even, our protection. As Owen and I (bundled into my Michelin Man coat and wearing two pairs of socks) began our walk yesterday, I was startled by the sound of diesel engines. It is winter. There is no farming going on. I turned my head to determine from whence it came. The sound grew fiercer. This was no tractor engine. It was deeper and violent, like the sound of a Jurassic Park dinosaur. I realized, with a sharp pang, that the sound was coming from the woods, the woods that, in my heart, I consider at least as much mine as my neighbors’. And I knew, just from the sound, what was happening. Timber is a huge business in this state. It provides jobs, it builds houses. I know this. I am a farmer’s daughter. I understand that trees are, in some circumstances, just a crop. But knowing this does not keep me from grieving. Knowing this never prepares me for the broken trunks thrusting themselves in the air like bayonets, the nakedness of the dirt, the emptiness of the horizon. It is just another example, as grieving always is, that there are things over which I have no control. I woke up this morning and the roar was so loud I could hear it inside the house. It jolted me, on this day after I have buried yet another person whose life was intertwined with mine, to an awareness that not only do proximity and beauty not always exist in the same moment, but neither does opportunity. The beauty of the woods, its nearness would have meant nothing over these years had I not seized the opportunity to experience them. They would have been nothing had I not made them mine. As it is with trees, so it is with people. It is possible that I may not walk there anymore – in that exact landscape, in that exact space, being held by the arms of those exact trees – but I did once. And in a world where few things last, that memory will.