Teach the children…Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. -Mary Oliver, Upstream
Though I have seen the ripped Earth for over forty years and in all corners of the United States; I still weep when I see the soil heaped like so much butchered flesh in the corner of what was once a meadow. Or worse yet, when a wood has been cleared and the stumps and roots of the trees are piled like so many bones, waiting to be ground into mulch to decorate the flower beds that will ring the house built on the now unrecognizable ground that will need foreign fertilizers to grow anything of beauty. I cannot help but feel a deep cut of sorrow as yet one more place has forever lost its innocence.
My first glimpse into the charnel house of savagery was the devastation of the mountain laurel swamps of my childhood. I saw this loss when I was sixteen; this wound would be but a bruise compared to what I would witness in my adulthood.
My childhood was much like any other. We had our tragedies and our joys. I lost my ability to see the world as a place that could provide me happiness and security while very young, perhaps too young. For that matter, when is a good age to begin to see more of the shadows cast by what you behold than the inherent beauty of the object itself?
We moved away from this place, my childhood of wooded freedom and impending destruction.
When I returned at the end of my adolescence, I had been away from the woods of my childhood for only five years. Upon my return to visit a friend who had stayed close, I now had to use a road that cut apart the very woods that she and I and the other children of the nearby development had roamed. She had stayed close but had moved to the newer, supposedly better homes built further into the wooded hills.
Gone were the mountain laurel swamps where we would fling ourselves from tree to tree over the frozen, flooded roots. Constantly risking wet feet and ankles, for the water was never that deep, we would crash into each other and the trees with wild abandon. Fingers red and noses more so, we would stay out until dusk; our mothers were of that generation that would feed us breakfast and dinner, expecting us to entertain ourselves between. Tiring of our wild abandon, we would climb up into the branches, breathing heavily and resting before we would move on to smashing the ice with the heels of our snow boots. Like so many children, we knew that this place, that moment, and that youthful exhilaration and exhaustion would last forever.
Sometimes, if I was lucky, I would have the place to myself as, even then, I found more understanding in the bamboo thicket and the tall tree, climbed too far, than in my companions. The characters of the books I lost myself in held far more interest for me than their flesh and blood comparisons.
Now, the woods were dry; with the new drainage ditches and drains, the rain and snow would find itself flowing down the hillside to the parking lots of the hotels by the highway.
What fun would now never be known? The heaps of cast aside dirt from the roadbed lay unused and abandoned on the side of the road. Once the foundation of decades of mountain laurel, now, cast aside; in a few years, humiliated further, this soil would become the haven for weeds, or, worse, yet, sprayed with salt for the safety of those that demanded its destruction.
Now, having seen greater destruction, even annihilation, I am glad that I was given a childhood free from the lords of profit. Even if, in the end, the land could not be salvaged. I saw what was possible; I have been seeking it ever since.