The Grumpy Old Man Takes a Walk in the Woods

The State owns the shore of the lake by my house, the part that the Nature Conservancy doesn’t own. They own a lot of the marsh, and they own a beautiful mature hardwood forest remnant where we love to walk in the spring and enjoy the wild flowers. Bloodroot, Dutchman’s Breeches, Thalictrum, Trout Lilies, Hepatica, Jack in the Pulpit, May Apples, and more open into the dappled sunlight on the forest floor before the high oak canopy closes out the light and the trees begin soaking up the nutrients and moisture all summer long. We walk back there, taking pictures, enjoying the warming days and sharing gratitude for the blessing of an unspoiled wild space like this.

Enter the State Forester. The State Forester has a lot on his mind, and land stewardship is just part of the equation. Reading Mother Nature’s mind, sensing what she wants for her special places and being willing to make a sacrifice to carry out her plans are also bullet points in the Forester’s job description… all this on a tight budget.

The neighbor down the road decided to thin her stand of pines so she hired a pulp cutter. Much of the paper you use to wipe your bottom started out in a Wisconsin wood-lot somewhere. So some day in the not too distant future, part of my neighbor’s wood-lot will find its way into your toilet via the pulp cutter and the paper mill. When the Forester heard the cutter was at work down the road he had an idea: he would see if the cutter would remove a stand of pines on the State’s upland holdings just to the northeast of our place. The cutter was generally willing but he would need access across our fields to move his equipment to the state land and to haul the logs out.

This isn’t the fucking Ponderosa. That gear would chew the heck out of my little holding. But I wanted to be a good neighbor, or at least I wanted to be THOUGHT a good neighbor, so I said “Sure, come ahead, but don’t use the field until it’s frozen good and solid.” Meanwhile, the Forester was upping the “What’s in it for Frank?” factor. He negotiated a deal with the cutter whereby the cutter would remove a bunch of box elders that stand in the way of a clear view of the lake from our east deck. What a deal!

We all gathered at the north end of the field a few days ago: the cutter, the Forester, his sidekick, the Nature Conservancy guy, and my neighbors to north and south who feel proprietary about the place too. Then the Forester springs it on us. The pines alone aren’t worth the trip for the cutter, he says. So to kill many birds with one rapacious swoop, or something like that, he proposes that the rough trees in the understory of our mixed hardwood remnant could be cut. These hickorys, cherries, red oaks, and a few locusts would make it worthwhile to the cutter to venture back there and take out the non-native pines. “Hmm,” I thought. And after pondering the proposition, and running through a rippling resentment of this al fresco meeting on the road in the winter to discuss a bait and switch artist’s wet dream, I gave it the five seconds thought it deserved and suggested “No way can you cross my land to mess up the spring ephemerals. Sorry.” But of course I wasn’t sorry, except for being put in this awkward position, and because I wouldn’t be getting the box elders cleared.

And the Forester continued to try to sell me on helping him address his budget issues by using the pulp cutter, and I suggested we sit down and discuss things, and he suggested that sitting down was not manly and we should walk in the woods and reach a conclusion there, and I was all resentful, and he was all assertive, and we went back to the woods. I think he was a little surprised at what he found there.

Later, he sent the following email. I seem to have gotten through to him, since my refusal was laced with all kinds of criticism of grabbing the main chance with no plans, no commitments, no serious consideration of what a logging operation will do to the land for the next several years, and he can’t get his tractors and trailers and loaders back there without crossing our place…

Hi everyone,

Thanks for meeting out on site yesterday. I thought it was productive,
and if nothing else, will hopefully springboard us into action.

For a number of reasons, I’ve decided to pass on the harvest for now.
Instead, I will try to find money to do some invasives work, primarily
woody species (locust, honeysuckle, buckthorn), as well as garlic
mustard. If we are successful, and get a jump on the woody pests,
then I will reconsider the harvest at a later date. This will give us
all a chance to talk, plan, and work – and I will be calling you re the
work.

So, for starters, lets have an informal get-together to discuss this
site, its place on our priority list, its primary “issues”,
possibilities, long-term vision, etc…

Posted in Environment, Farm Almanac, Nature
2 comments on “The Grumpy Old Man Takes a Walk in the Woods
  1. Frank, an extended hand holding a little friendly support and recognition of an awkward situation well-handled seems in order. Here’s mine.

    I wish the Forester good luck, too, in evaluating how he might best delve into working things out.

  2. McD says:

    Frank,

    I am reminder of Thoreau when you write about your humble digs.

    You hear the same percussionist that Henry David riffed upon. The Forrester would benefit from learning to listen to that cadence.

    “Managing nature” is an oxymoron… stewarding in the interests of nature (and man) is more appropriate. Someday you and the Forester might
    appreciate how you impacted each others lives…
    for the better of yourselves and the world you inhabit.

    One can only hope. I hope.

    PS> You’re not grumpy. You’re caring in that special way that stirs deep, visceral energies.
    It’s the primordial “Fight or Be Fucked” response of one who examines life and embraces the challenge to defend the greater good. You are the champion for your land. The land needs you.

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