The First Cut Is the Deepest
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
Commentator Julie Zickefoose lives in rural Ohio in a home surrounded by trees. She and her family like it that way. It's private. But her land is bordered by a neighbor who recently hired loggers to take the trees down on one side of her house. Logging is a fact of life in the heavily forested area where she lives. Big trees are worth a lot of money. Well, recently, the wood cutters came. Julie says it was a especially hard to say goodbye to huge old tulip tree. It sat on her neighbor's land, right outside her kitchen window.
BLOCK: We listened as the bulldozers and chainsaws moved closer each day. One by one, the big trees fell. The loggers were taking everything over 18 inches in diameter, leaving the smaller trees to mature.
After three weeks, there was one only giant left, the tulip tree we called the privacy tree. We called it that because it shielded our house from the road, made it feel like a secret. I knew the logger was saving the biggest tree for last. He couldn't have overlooked it. It was time to say goodbye. I walked out through the snow meaning to wrap my arms around it and had to spread them for goodbye hug.
I know - I'm a tree hugger. But it's something in this cut-over, degraded forest to find a tulip tree that's 36 inches at breast height. Can't we ask them not to cut the privacy tree? asked my daughter Phoebe, her voice plaintive. Doesn't the logger have a heart? Well, no, honey, we can't ask him. A 36-inch tulip tree is worth money, and it's on our neighbor's land and that, my dear, is that.
While she was at school, I did call my neighbor and offer to compensate him for the value of the tree as he'd just leave it standing. It was a reckless act born of a mother's desire to fix what's wrong. I had no idea what it was worth, figuring I'd either be able to meet the price or not. I just wanted to buy it, to leave it standing so the tanagers and wood threshers could still perch in it and sing.
He turned me down flat. Nope, I am going to cut it. If it dies and falls down, I can't get anything for it. And I don't want it lying around on the ground. Trees are a crop just like anything else, and you need to harvest them before they fall down.
I suggested that trees might have another value as habitat even after they fell down, and we hung up agreeing that we saw things differently when it came to trees. Two days later, my husband and I watched in silence as a chainsaw snarled into its base. The privacy tree trembled, groaned, spun slowly and smashed down, taking five other trees with it.
Four years ago, I watched with dismay as another forest I loved was logged just like this one. I'd drive by every day watching it get thinner and thinner. The loggers took all the big trees ,piling them like Lincoln logs on a flatbed truck, hauling the forest away in a cloud of diesel fumes.
I'd ground my teeth and muttered as I passed. The next spring, underbrush spring up in the newly open woods from seeds that had been waiting for decades in the soil for just such conditions.
Within three years, new, strange bird songs rang through the open stand. Wild turkeys, American redstarts, blue-winged prairie, hooded and Kentucky warblers flocked to the thick, young growth that sprang up in the wake of the cutting. I'll park my car where the logging truck once sat and watch jewel-like birds fetching insects and nesting materials in the flickering sun, in the new growth racing toward the sky.
For birds like these to survive and thrive, some trees must fall. Some sunlight might strike the forest floor. Even as I mourn the privacy tree, I know that my neighbor's is a changed woodland, and not necessarily for the worst.
BLOCK: Commentator Julie Zickefoose lives on an 80-acre nature sanctuary. She's the author of "Letters from Eden."
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