“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 insisted. “It’s a perfect day. You’ll be glad we did it.”
I reluctantly took off my shorts and pulled on overalls, rubber boots, and a big straw hat. Vic grabbed a spade fork and a shovel. I put Daisy on a leash so she wouldn’t wander off to hunt. Vic arranged his tripod, set up the shot, and put the camera on delay. Leaping and laughing, he hurried next to me in time for the camera click.
A few weeks later, friends and a few people from the Finger Lakes Land Trust showed up for a ritual celebration. We walked to the woods and stood silently around a majestic red oak tree.
One by one, we gave offerings to the forest and created an altar around the base of the tree. Some said a prayer or read a poem, some buried an acorn, many offered flowers from home or picked a wild flower or found a feather along the trail. Some brought crystals, beautiful stones, or tiny carved animals to place near a small Buddha statue. Jayne Demakos played her harp. The oak received many hugs.
Earlier 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. Since I couldn’t stop them, 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 couldn’t 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 Finger Lakes Land Trust. The effort and cost to create a conservation easement suddenly seemed small.
Our 71 acres remained privately owned, but the agreement in the deed bound us and future owners to leave the property undivided and undeveloped and follow a long-term conservation plan for fields, forest, streams, and wetlands. The easement allowed us to love each tree, view, and stream, knowing we protected their future as we protected each other and our children.
More than ever, the forest became my healing sanctuary, the place where I turned when life dealt me a blow, the trees I leaned into when Vic was diagnosed with cancer, the place where we buried his ashes, the place where I found 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.