They clear-cut part of my backyard trails and I’m devastated (Outdoor Diary)

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Humans Outside episode 372

When I heard the saws, I should’ve known it was not a good thing, not just a trail crew clearing wood downed on the trail.

I never guessed the loss those sounds were bringing. And when I saw it, I stood in disbelief.

I guess that’s the risk brought by loving something. When it’s taken away, a piece of you feels gone, too.

Listen now.

Some of the good stuff:

[:35] Man-made destruction without warning

[1:45] I assumed it wasn’t major. Boy was I wrong.

[2:55] Only Treebeard has the words for this

[3:45] These trees were my friends

[4:50] It feels like a heavy loss

[5:12] My bad for trusting anyone on the internet

[6:22] But I do think this is a universal experience

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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.

It’s wild how quickly destruction can take something you love — and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I first heard the sounds and saw work on Monday. When I left for my mid-day run, nothing was out of the ordinary. When I came back I noticed some tree crews on the hill owned by the local high school, steps from my home. The wind here knocks a lot of trees and branches down. I assumed they were clearing those. I actually felt grateful.

Two days later, I looked up out my office window and spotted a giant, driven wood chipper mowing over the small trees on a hill behind my home. As it moved, the trees fell. My jaw dropped open. Were they clear-cutting the top of this hill? And for what possible reason? The wind was howling and it was cold — I didn’t wade out myself to see what they were doing.

I shot off an email to the district’s project manager, who I’d talked to about past work nearby. Was there a clear-cutting project I should know about? He responded no – he wasnt aware of any clear-cutting. However, there was a project to extend the foul lines on an adjacent baseball field.

That didn’t sound major, so while I was worried because the part I saw them clearing was on a hill above the field and not against the field, I moved on. It couldnt be that bad, right?

Boy was I wrong.

Two days later, Luke and I strapped on our snow shoes and headed into the strong, cold 25 mile per hour winds to see for ourselves just what had happened out there. A small hill blocks my vision from my yard — thank God. Because what I saw when I got to the top of it took my breath away.

At least three acres of trees, obliterated into a wasteland of wood chips. The place I love so much, barely recognizable. Yes, most of the rest of the cross country trails we regularly use are still there, with the exception of the first, long line of trees. But this was our gateway in, a series of trails that wrapped around our property line and transported us into another world. Gone.

My mouth hung open taking in the loss. And I felt a wave of intense grief. I didn’t know this was happening. I didn’t even get to say goodbye.

There’s this quote from Lord of the Rings that immediately came to mind. Treebeard, a giant, slow walking and talking tree known as an Ent, who has been walking the world for thousands of years, comes across an area that was clear cut by a selfish wizard in search of power.

“Many of these trees were my friends, creatures I had known from nut and acorn; many had voices of their own that are lost forever now. And there are wastes of stump and bramble where there were singing groves.”

Those words — these trees were my friends — are exactly what came to mind and I stood there and cried in the destruction and wind. I walked down the hill through the remnants of my friends, these trees, past the giant wood chipper and backhoe, waiting to do more work later. And I cried some more.

It’s not that i don’t want a baseball field extended, though I do question if the clearing actually had to be this extensive. It’s more that I didn’t have any warning, that no one thought that the people who love this place would want a moment to honor it before it changed forever.

These trees were my friends.

I cannot tell you how many of my 2,374 days of going outside have been spent passing through those now gone trees, but it’s at least hundreds since that walk was my default activity. When we talk about the experience of heading outside daily and all the things it’s done for me, one of those is most certainly giving me a deep appreciation for the natural things around. It’s an emotional tie, where I feel like I know and have a relationship with the spaces I visit regularly, as silly as it sounds..

These trees were my friends.

Chloe, our dog who we put down a few weeks ago, loved walking these trails too. And the loss of it brought back a wave of sadness over the loss of her. Two relationships, gone.

It doesn’t help that everything is barren and windy and cold right now, so blown out and unrecognizable, at least compared to how it is when the leaves have come or even when the snow sits on trees. The destruction feels magnified.

I posted about this loss on Humans Outside on Facebook and Instagram, as well as on a neighborhood social media. I thought the other people who loved those trails would want to know what had happened. I am genuinely surprised by the number of people who called me a whiner, anti progress or claimed that a baseball field is more needed than trails so kids have something to do. Exactly zero of the people who commented actually live in the neighborhood that sits against these trails, by the way, so Im not sure why they felt their opinion on the subject matters more than mine. And I’m not saying a baseball field where kids play sports isnt needed or wanted. I’m just saying one is not superior to the other. And what about the kids who used these trails? What are they going to do? But my bad for thinking the people of the internet would ever be rational, or for a moment consider the feelings of others. I know better.

Still, I have to think that the sorrow of losing a place you love, whether it belongs to you or not, is an experience that can be understood by others who dont have any personal tie to this particular area. When I start podcast episodes with guests, I ask them to take us to their favorite outdoor space, so we can pretend to be there while having this conversation. And the thing I’ve found is that every single person has an outdoor space they want to hang out in, and rarely is it a space over which they have personal ownership. If those spaces were forever altered without warning, they’d be sad. It doesn’t really seem that hard to understand, does it?

These trees were my friends.

I’ve had a few days since I first felt this loss, and Ive come up with some ways to make it feel just a little better. I’ve gathered a bunch of the wood for some art work — we’ll see how that works out but if it comes together I’ll definitely show you. And in a few weeks I’ll take a ton of wildflower seeds out there, and maybe just maybe out of this wood chipped, dirt work waste land we’ll get the start of a field of fireweed and other wildflowers.

You can see all of my photos of my outdoor time on Humans Outside on Facebook and Instagram, yes including this incredible sadness. Share your photos too -of sadness and joy – with hashtag #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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