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I’m not an ecologist or a lawyer, but I know it’s wrong to cut trees in my mountains without an awfully good reason.
Along my little dirt road in the last few weeks someone has been cutting trees and hauling them away for fire wood. Several of my neighbors were concerned about it, but surprisingly, they weren’t concerned about the loss of wood as a commodity. They understand the fragile nature of our environment, and they worry much more about how long it will take a replacement to grow than about the dollar value of the stolen trees. For reasons which are still unclear to me, I was elected to talk to the person who was known to have cut the trees.
His response was in two parts. First, he said, he hadn’t cut any of my trees. Second, he said, he’s been doing it for years—just clearing away dead trees. The way he told it, he was doing the environment a favor. People who rape the landscape always seem to fall back on this line of reasoning.
It’s a little like the infamous officer who said, in Vietnam, that a village had to be destroyed in order to save it.
So it is that every thief who cuts a tree, whether for fuel or for Christmas, is willing to state that in doing so he does the landscape an invaluable service. As though the landscape wasn’t doing okay before he arrived on the scene.
The man who cut these trees has been here a number of years, but there is a fact buried here which deserves the light of day; a person who treats the land like this has no commitment to it. Someone committed to living here would not kill an animal or pull up a flower, or cut down a tree, mine or his, without an excellent reason. Those who do otherwise, no matter how long they have been here, are just transients, who, like some tourists, have no commitment to the land. A person who loves this place feels every snapped tree limb and mourns every road killed animal.
There was a time when a man or woman could roam these hills in winter and kill what he liked, be it animal or vegetable, without censure. Indeed, one might have done that only 26 years ago along my road. In those days, only one individual, Bill Waite, lived all alone, without running water, in a one room cabin on Big Owl Road.
Those days are gone.
Today, 10 families, including Bill Waite, live along this one mile piece of road, and most of the things you could get away with 26 years ago will now get you a talk with your friendly deputy sheriff because your neighbors will call him and report you.
Mostly, though, it seems to be in a good cause.
Most of the activity seems to be centered around the preservation of the animal and vegetable life, in recognition of the fact that all of us are just passing through.
George R. Stewart may have said it best: “Men come and go, but earth abides.” [Bill Waite is gone and the miscreant packed up and left long ago. Sometimes I get things right.]
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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