This past October has been a searing lesson in keeping one’s antenna up. The teachable moment was the watching of a highly efficient logging crew cut down a thousand or more trees from the lot across the road.
The clear cut was requested by the church which owns the land, and it was approved by the village after due inspection.
You see, where we live we have a village administration which has pretty strong rules about keeping up appearances. You can’t just cut down a tree unless it’s sick, damaged, or dangerous, and if so, you need a permit first. I used to think too much government is a rein on individual freedom, but this set of rules is a good one.
It turns out that the church is in the mood for selling the land for development. The challenge was to make the parcel more attractive, and to that end, counseled with its lawyers to build a case for removing a wilderness of 60-year-old trees.
The trees in question were part of an abandoned tree nursery. Fifty-five years ago, they were planted 10 feet apart, and do you know what happened? The owners gave up the business, and Mother Nature took over.
In fitting out her arboreal family, she attracted a host of wildlife, from deer, coyote and other furry creatures, complemented by boisterous flocks of birds who populated the tree tops with a chatter of music all day.
Meanwhile, the trees matured to their full 5-story height, and spawned a wilderness of jungle under the canopy.
The critters loved it; the church not so much.
Then about a year ago, a developer sniffed out a golden opportunity to build a settlement of new homes on the property, and before long, a deal was made. The developer became the authorized agent for the church to get the trees removed.
The new agent petitioned the village government, pointing out the church’s liability if, God forbid, a tree might fall down and clobber a hiker foraging in the woods for morels. It hadn’t happened in 50-plus years, so odds were likely that the jig would soon be up.
With detailed, supporting testimony from professional arborists hired by the developer, and then double-checked by the village’s own arborists, and ultimately inspected by the mayor, the village gave the okay to axe the forest.
Each offending tree was tagged, and given a C.V. page in a three-ring binder. 2,500 candidates were put on the rolls, and 38 were deemed salvageable.
The news finally broke when the local reporter headlined an article on the pending clear cut. Then, and only then, did the public wake up.
But sadly, too late!
In November the heavy machinery came in, and in a matter of a few days, decimated the woods which had pleased passers by for decades. Today, there is a giant mountain of chipped wood on the lot, over 20 feet high, and enough to fill the village swimming pool three times over.
I mentioned passers by. Approximately 20,000 motorists pass the woods every day. Year after year the woods have been the backdrop to the driver’s view on a seasonal corn crop that has graced the parcel forever, accented by a colorful palette of leaves each fall.
One day it’s there, the next, it’s gone.
Driving north today we see a sodden battlefield of tree stumps, roots and tangled branches, exposing fresh, grainy wood under torn bark and up-ended logs. A water tower overlooks the scene, never before visible from the road. Behind that, the once sheltered golf course now presents a naked 20-foot-high wire fence used to catch wild golf balls.
As we drive by, our eyes are drawn to the carnage, and then we avert our gaze in disgust. The sight is sickening.
One wonders if the village will have the gumption to direct the church to clean up the stubble and make it pleasant, minimally, just to keep up appearances.
Though the word “development” is attached to every discussion about the deforestation, we are assured by the village that the decision to remove the trees is not connected to any housing proposal.
The questionable proposal to crowd up to 147 houses on the parcel of land is nebulous. Despite the best drawn plans, it has earned no approvals for re-zoning, plats or building.
In the face of the public’s nausea over the decisions to date, the development may never appear, or perhaps hover in limbo indefinitely.
Meanwhile, the steam and fumes of fermenting wood chips fill the air with a bitter tannic scent that drifts across our neighborhood.
The lesson we have learned from this smoldering string of events is that despite our best wishes, bad things happen if we don’t pay attention. To that end, there is an aggressive interest among the population to watch what’s going on down at village hall.
While all the time, we grieve, and get on with it.
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