One day late last September, my classroom began being dismantled. There was nothing I could do about it. It was completely out of my hands.
The logging trucks came and began removing the trees from the 720 acres of woodland where I had learned and where I had taught. I did not own this privately held land. I was a constant trespasser upon this ground, a violator, and had been one since childhood, instructed by my grandmother to always carry a jacket when exploring a piece of private property. The jacket was not to fend off a chill, but to hang over any ‘No Trespassing’ sign so you could honestly say you couldn’t see any sign in case you were caught violating.
Using this method, Grandma and I gathered apples, pears and blackberries from abandoned farmsteads and with my Aunties, I gathered up bushels of black walnuts, hazelnuts and an assortment of botanicals used medicinally and for Native American ceremonies.
Upon this 720 acres of land is where I learned my very first lesson about the value of herbals. Walking along its fenced border, my Dad pointed out a few rounded, shiny leaves growing close to the ground. “If you ever have a belly ache,” he said, “Chew on a few of these leaves. They’ll fix you right up. Don’t chew the red berries. Just the green leaves.”
I was somewhere in the neighborhood of six years old at the time and he had me pick a few of those leaves, crush them between my fingers and then smell them. Ha! They smelled like those chalky pink candies my Great-Grandma Shaw kept in a dish on her dresser. It was invitation only candy and if I behaved myself I got one on Sunday after church. I loved the taste of those candies! And now I knew where to get that taste without the bother of appropriate behavior!
I chewed on those luscious leaves, imagining the possibilities, looking at the carpet of wintergreen spreading up the bank and beyond the fence line. Those leaves on the other side of the fence looked a whole lot bigger and greener than those that grew by the roadside and I knew right then I would have to get my grandma in on the act because while my grandma knew the value of good jacket placement, her son did not. No violator was my father! Which only proves that all the really cool family traits skip a generation.
Bounce ahead fifty years from that point in time.
Day after day the logging trucks rolled out through the breaks they made in the fencing, carrying groaning loads past my house, heading west to lumber mills and pallet factories.
The forest emptied. From the roadside it had been difficult to see twenty yards into the woods, the trees and undergrowth were so thick and lush, with some of the ash grown so big you couldn’t get your arms around the trunks. In between, the spindly birch and poplar struggled upward and everywhere where it was possible for a pine tree to grow, a pine tree grew. There are even a couple of small lakes and a great big swampy area that had been hidden by the trees, exposed now and, I suppose, looking rather forlorn. I wouldn’t really know. I haven’t been into the woods since the first bulldozer shoved a logging road into place.
It’s funny. Where I once felt totally comfortable violating all manner of private property laws, I now feel quite shy about entering. It’s all for sale now, you see. After removing the final stick of sell-able lumber the 720 acres was busted up into parcels of so called ‘huntin’ lan’. They put a for sale sign beside every logging road they carved into the forest and in such a cheery manner it practically invites you to trespass willy-nilly. Come on in, take a look around, we left just enough trees to qualify as ‘wooded land’, make an offer, we can negotiate, we’re friendly!
By the end of November, after the final logging truck had hauled away the final load of shredded waste wood, I had gotten quite used to seeing the emptied forest. I see ghosts of maple and ash trees now, materializing next to the skinny birch left behind to repopulate the land, then disappearing once again, into memories and regrets. I can see deep into the woods from the roadside, so different from…all my life, actually. It had always been the forest primeval to me. It’s gone now. Just simply gone.
But, the forest will come back. It did once before. A hundred and thirty years ago Michigan caught on fire. Well, a good chunk of Michigan, that is. It was one of the biggest forest fires in U.S. history, burning over an estimated 2 million acres before all was said and done. But no one really knows this because at the exact same time the infamous Chicago Fire got all the attention.
Anyway, I remember as a kid seeing the charred trunks and stumps of trees burned in that fire. Even after eighty years the remains of that devastation were evident. In the fifty years since, the evidence became less and less and now, as I look over into the emptied out forest, I see none at all. That, too, is just simply gone.
Still, every time we drive by the sparse woods, I look. I don’t know why. It makes me feel kind of sad. Everything I used to look for is gone. Glutton for punishment, I guess. Still, I look. The forest will be back. Maybe I’m looking for hope. Anything.
Then, I did see something. Something completely unexpected, which I realize now, I probably never would have seen if the forest hadn’t been so brutally thinned out.
I saw a wolf.
A what, you say?
Yeah, you heard me. Shhhh, please. Shhhh.
Last week in the states of Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Utah, wolves were taken off the endangered species list. Wyoming is expected to soon follow and the Western Great Lake states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan have proposed to do the same thing.
Seems there’s a significant population of wolves up there in Da Yoop. So many that some folks feel comfortable enough to withdraw protection of them and consequently begin to hunt them.
But, I live in the Lower Peninsula.
So, did I really see a wolf? Well, yeah, I did. So did Mr. Flower. Twice for him, once for me and we are not the only locals who have caught sight of it. We have sort of banded together, us sighters, and we don’t say much because, like people who see UFO’s and aliens and admit to it in public, we get laughed at and called crazy. Because, there ain’t no wolves in the Lower Peninsula. The government officials have range maps that say so. And as we all know, government officials are never wrong.
The government officials would also like people to fill out a form if you catch sight of one of those wolves, wherever they are, presumably not in the Lower Peninsula.
Am I going to cooperate with that request?
It goes against my violator creed.
Now, a couple of years ago, I might have been a good citizen and filled out that little form. But, that was back when wolves were listed as protected and I was a little less cranky than I am now. I say if wolves got to be out there on their own and in the cross-hairs of so called sportsmen, nobody is getting any help from me as to the whereabouts of a shootable wolf.
Wolves are natural born predators. Who doesn’t know that? They kill and eat things bigger than they are and sometimes the things they kill and eat are owned by humans and then the humans get a little mad and they want to get even. So the humans get Congress to bypass the Endangered Species Act entirely and, ta-dah! Instead of being predators, wolves become violators. And as we all know, violators can and must be shot on sight. Stand your ground, humans!
I simply refuse to rat out a fellow violator.
Now, I’m gonna go chew on a couple of wintergreen leaves. This whole thing has given me a belly ache.