When I was small I lived in the far north country of Minnesota. A twenty minutes walk could bring me to a dozen lakes, or to two houses. Besides that it was all forest, glorious forest that had not been touched in thousands of years. That was my land, my playplace, my sanctuary, my kingdom. I roamed those forests from sun-up to sun-down, getting to know the trees, the shrubs, each lady-slipper and violet that grew in their shade. Long before I could read I knew dozens of trees by their bark or their leaves; I recognized countless types of mushrooms and knew which we ate and which we didn't. The soft moss and centuries of fallen leaves beneath me, the sticky pine sap and curling birch bark around me, the countless needles and leaves above me, and everywhere hundreds of types of bird songs, fluttering wings, flying squirels and porcupines. It was a magical land, as holy and enchanted as anything this side of the grave will be to me.
Recently while I was telling my youngest daughter about life in those woods, we got on the internet and found that land. I showed her (from the vantage of a satelite photo) the house that I had lived in, the church nearby, and my forests. Many of the forests remain, but I also saw vast tracts of land that have been clear cut. Mile after mile of ancient forest removed to the dirt. Not a tree, not a shrub left. Now there is dirt where I remember walking with my brother, following tracks of we knew not what. Moose we said, but they may have been elk or deer. We fancied ourselves the first humans to walk those paths. Possibly we were.
But now those paths lead not among forests that were ancient before Abraham was born. Now those paths, if they can be found at all, lead between clumps of dirt and rotting stumps. Now with every rain the furtile soil that had been built up from falling leaves and kept in place by antique root structures is being washed away. Every spring the melting snow drags deeper and deeper ravines into the dirt that had been carefully tended by Providence ever since Adam began tending his garden.
As I told my daughter beautiful tales of life in those woods, inside I wept. I wept for the grandeur that I had known, for the life that is becoming impossible, for what my world and the whole world is losing in the loss of such forests.
By Gerard Manley Hopkins
My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering
O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew--
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being so slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc unselve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.