From my back porch I can see my two oldest kids playing in the thin strip of pine trees between our house and our neighbor’s house. Depending on the season, I can almost be fooled. When the leafy vines that grow wild grapes are full and green it can seem as though there are no neighbors on the other side, quiet as they are. But when the leaves have all fallen to the ground, the vines hang bare and the few evergreens are young and small, I am able to see right through the line of trees to the backyard on the other side. The house that stands with it is just 30 feet from my own.
This particular row of trees runs from about the midline of our front yard to the very end of our backyard, where it meets the side yard of the neighbors behind us. It is from this small piece of “wilderness” that we hang fruit for the birds and many squirrels that visit our yard, where we collect various leaves for rubbings and leaf creature creations, where we lay to rest a dry Christmas tree, and where I gather red holly berries for the natural garland I decorate my front doorway with each holiday season. It is where my kids now play and explore and discover, at my encouragement, the natural world that is left for them. Just last night, as I look over my daughter in her pretty dress for a year-end ceremony, I see the long red scratch down her arm and ask where it came from. “A thorn,” she replies. I know it is from her most recent trek in our tiny woods, and I smile.
This is normal and good and healthy to me. This decorating with the beauty provided to us and checking for ticks at the end of a warm day. Even my husband has hesitated at the kids’ recent fascination with the woods. “No, let them go,” I say, because the world before me is becoming something that is not so normal and good and healthy, at least not to my eyes. It seems likely that there may come a day when there are no woods left for them to go and enjoy, or worse, a day when they don’t want to.
Yesterday evening I sat on my front porch and, horrified, watched a tall pine fall to the ground. I heard the crackling as the excavator continued to clear the lot down our road. My husband jokes that I heard an Indian cry. My heart broke for the life that had been growing, for the Earth that had grown it, for the countless little lives that had made their home in that lot, and for the people who consider our neighborhood a beautiful one…because when the landscape is taken away, what beauty will be left?
This is my mini-manifesto to say that I will never be happy to see trees go down and a house go up. I will continue to plant and plant and plant, even on my small piece of earth. I will continue to see Pocahontas and Laura Ingalls Wilder as heroines, those who had the skills and means to live off of the land. I will continue to look at my garden, overflowing with peppers, potatoes, corn and tomatoes in the summer months, as a miracle, that the natural world we live in could offer us so much if only we sacrifice a little for it. I will continue to gaze at the beautiful white-capped Andes, or reach the top of a mountain in Colorado just in time to see the sun rise over the trees, or be awakened to the sound of Costa Rican birds and howler monkeys, or meet a penguin after sleeping on the sand of a cold Chilean beach, or catch my breath at the shocking beauty of the sloping landscape of Barbados from a surfboard, or kayak across the quiet and calm Bogue Sound just before a sunrise rain, or walk deep into the fields of Greene County where all that is left to see is cotton and trees, or stand in awe at stars brighter than I have ever seen them before from the Jamaican countryside…and I will know that it is in these places that I have felt closer to God than ever before. And if I am hearing Him correctly He is telling me simply, enjoy. Enjoy all of this now, for it is the very magnificence of Who He is. And it is slowly being taken away.
“When we are content with who we are, we treat other life forms with compassion and kindness.” (SACRED PLANET, 2005)
(The photo above was taken as another once-wooded lot in our dear neighborhood was being cleared. Others are being marked for clearing.)