“Come on, Elaine, let’s dress up in our Hector regional costumes and take a photo for the party invitation.”
“I have gardening to do, Vic. Let’s do it tomorrow.”
“No, today,” Vic insists. “It’s a perfect day. You’ll be glad we did it.”
I reluctantly take off my shorts and pull on overalls, rubber boots, and a big straw hat. Vic grabs a spade fork and a shovel. I put Daisy on a leash so she won’t wander off to hunt. Vic arranges his tripod, sets up the shot, and puts the camera on delay. Leaping and laughing, he hurries next to me in time for the camera click.
A few weeks later, friends and a few people from the Finger Lakes Land Trust show up for a ritual celebration. We walk to the woods and stand silently around a majestic red oak tree.
One by one, we give offerings to the forest and create an altar around the base of the tree. Some say a prayer or read a poem, some bury an acorn, many offer flowers from home or pick a wild flower or find a feather along the trail. Some bring crystals, beautiful stones, or tiny carved animals to place near a small Buddha statue. Jayne Demakos plays her harp. The oak receives many hugs.
That summer, Vic and I had signed a conservation easement with the Land Trust. I hesitated when Vic first made the suggestion a few years before. It would cost money for lawyers. Too many details to figure out and too much bother. We procrastinated.
Then our neighbor who owned 150 acres bordering our forest died. His widow sold the lumber rights. Men came with chainsaws and bulldozers. I walked through the woods each evening to visit the standing trees on the neighbor’s land, just as I’d done for many years. Every morning, men and machines demolished the forest, tree after precious tree. I could not stop them, so I witnessed and grieved. My spine tightened with fear, and I wondered if the trees sensed the threat. I hugged the giants and wet their bark with my tears. The next day, the trees I had hugged the day before, the majestic oaks, maples, and pines, lay mortally wounded on the ground, as though a hurricane had crashed through. The giants crushed and broke most smaller trees as they fell. Anything remaining was destroyed as machines dragged the logs out to the neighbor’s field. And so it went for weeks until each tree was gone. Pocketing her profit, the widow moved away.
An unforgiveable devastation of a mature woods, habitat for struggling forest birds, animals, and plants. Irate and heart sick, we could not allow this to happen to the trees we owned, even after we sold our property, even after our death. Anger and grief fueled action. We called the Land Trust. The effort and cost to create a conservation easement suddenly seemed small.
Our 71 acres remain privately owned, but the agreement in the deed binds future owners to leave the property undivided and undeveloped and follow a long-term conservation plan for fields, forest, streams, and wetlands. The easement allows us to love each tree, view, and stream, knowing we protect their future as we protect each other and our children.
More than ever, the forest becomes our healing balm, the place where we turn when life deals us a blow, the trees we lean into when Vic is diagnosed with cancer, the place where I find solace after his death.
What have you preserved for your family or for future generations? How has Nature nourished and healed you? You might also enjoy My Hector Home: Protecting the forests of the Finger Lakes or Lost and Found in my Own Backyard.