I’ve been skirting around the fallen trees for several weeks. I’m afraid to let my mind, my heart, settle on them, land in their downed branches—afraid I’ll get stuck there. This project of building a lake has been simmering on the back burner for more than ten years and this year we moved it to the front, turned up the flame and dived in with all four feet—the pain has been excruciating at times. Like the proverbial frog in the boiling water that begins to feel the burn but is too far gone to do anything about it. ‘Cept all the frog had to look forward to was death—we will have a 25 foot deep, 3½ acre lake and a house site for Darrell and Viv from this wreckage. As you can see, I’m still skirting the issue, already moving forward to the down-the-road outcome of all this carnage rather than the carnage itself. It’s more peaceful to imagine the lake reflecting the still standing trees round about its perimeter than to look clearly at the crisscrossed mass of treetops in the valley, the wide swaths cut through the woods and denuded of all vegetation, the mud wallow created by the big machinery that dragged the money-making logs from the valley.
Two hundred marketable trees. $20,000 in the bank that will cover the next stage of the operation—moving half a hill from where it is to where it will be, transforming it into a dam, a 27 foot wall of clay/sand/mud that will hold back a world of water.
Several different timber bidders hiked the hills and valleys and sprayed their colorful tomcat spray on oak, maple, tulip, beech, hickory, ash, gum—prime hardwood trees marked for harvest. And, to harvest them, countless “no-value” trees were knocked down and mutilated by the gigantic skitter that dominated these woods for weeks along with the buzzing of chainsaws and the clunk of logs being loaded onto big trucks—18 semi-loads of logs—leaving enough tops and small damaged trees to heat our house and dozens of others into far distant winters. Ugly, that’s what it is, ugly.
Bill cut me a new path to the creek valley since my favorite path for nearly twenty years had been rendered impassable. A few days before he strapped on the weed eater and blazed the new trail, I had returned home from work and started for my walk in the woods, down the path behind our son Deet’s house. I had gone only a few yards before trunks and branches with withering leaves blocked the way. I turned back and headed up the lane to access the valley from a different direction. Bill was at the top of the hill working in the barn. “Whatcha doin?” he called and walked out to meet me. My breaking heart tore open when I heard his voice. “I started down the hill behind Deet’s and…,” I began sobbing deep, wailing sobs, and he put his arms around me, “Aw…babe…I’m sorry.” He held me and I cried. There was nothing else to do at that moment—just feel the pain, smack in the middle of that boiling pan we’d set on the front burner. There was no undoing the damage, no immediate crossing through to the other side—just the grieving and the holding one another.
When the sobbing subsided and I was mopping up my face with his handkerchief, he said, “Come on, I’ll go with you. We can walk around this way.” And off we went, around the mechanical T-Rex as its massive claws picked up fifteen-foot logs and dropped them onto a flatbed trailer, around the pile of logs almost as tall as our house, down the stripped bare, eight-foot-wide trail to the creek valley, stepping to the side as the giant skitter with its four-foot-wide tires pulled more logs out of the valley to our left, down past Grandmother Beech Tree—Bill had asked the workers to be careful with her; the man in charge had asked to be shown, not just told, which tree it was, so he could do just that.
We walked on, turning to the right and winding along the bank of the creek. The roaring of the machinery became a dull hum behind us as creeksong and birdsong sweetened the air. The spring greening of the valley had almost obscured the path that took us over to the large stand of sycamores. It is one of my favorite places on our land. Smooth white branches stretch high into the blue sky like arms raised in joyful hallelujahs. I leaned into the moss covered trunk of the biggest one, the one that I call my wailing wall, and Bill joined me as I sang the “Healing Chant” over and over again.
I still have bouts of crying. Like when I saw Grandmother Beech’s gnarly knuckled roots skinned a little. Like when they cut the second path through the woods on our ridge to access the soon-to-be-doomed hill. Like when my grandson refuses to come to our house because he is, as he put it, “Totally opposed to what we are doing to the trees.” Mostly, I’ve been trying hard to focus on what will be instead of what is.
Mostly, I’ve been walking the county road instead of the woods trail, skirting the worst of the devastation, allowing my heart some room to heal.
Glenda for The Poplar Grove Muse
(June 6, 2013)