So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left with… From the stunning piece, “The Hill We Climb,” by Inaugural Poet, Amanda Gorman, 1/20/21.
Walking slowly up the hill, I had the best chance of seeing something new. I would be less noisy and obtrusive, though I had my work cut out for me, plodding through a crust of snow barely softened by a fall of heavy flakes.
I had no goal in mind; I was going nowhere in particular (even more so than usual). If I kept my senses open with this frame of mind, looking first to the horizon and peripheries and then to the particulars of my near environment, I might actually experience something interesting. Even with the falling snow, animal tracks were everywhere, and if I took the time to study them, I might hear the stories that they told. The ground is never blank.
I had recently hiked the nearby Turkey Ridge State Forest and discovered a large flock of common redpolls veering over the fields on an otherwise bird-less day. I had known about the forest for three decades or more but, for some reason, had never walked it. Now my negligence seemed almost criminal. So I hiked the ridge carefully and began to view it as another extension of my home.
I was in the big woods on the snowy hill behind my house. Looking for something wild, I listened to the hiss of falling snow, to the cawing of a distant crow and the yakking of a nuthatch from the groves of whitened maple, beech, and ash. I stepped carefully along an icy spur of the deep ravine, the granddaddy of Bootleg Hollow gullies.
Maybe I would see the feathered sprite, the secretive winter wren– an elfin bird that likes to feed among the nooks and crannies of upturned roots and rock debris. And sure enough, I soon found one flitting briefly over the ice-free brook that formed the gulley. A goal accomplished on an otherwise goal-free winter day!
Maneuvering eastward over the slopes, I approached an old school bus in a field of shrubs and thorny bushes. How it got there in the first place I will never know. Its burial site is a half mile from the nearest farm or place of human habitation. When I first moved to the hollow in the early 80s, I could see the bus from a knoll behind my house, but since wild nature had wrapped its arms around the rusted form, the bus has been hidden from nearly everyone’s view.
Apparently the shattered carriage had never ceased its hillside travels. Birds have nested and flown from the crossbars near its broken windshield. Porcupines and field mice have boarded the aisle and cushioned seats like children of the past. I climbed aboard, too, as if for a ride to the school of nowhere in particular. The seats were occupied but, if I stood behind the white line near the front, I could ride the phantom bus like passengers in the days of old.
I went to a school of wild nature for the day and then took the bus back home. The kid inside my journeyman clothes had an assignment to do. It dealt with a large machine that worked its way down my seasonal lane. The rig was lopping off significant trees at both sides of the gravel road. Fearing what it might do when it reached my property line, I approached the operator and inquired what the hell was going on.
The driver said they were gonna make a “real road” out of the steep mile-long thoroughfare. No one lives on the road and hardly anyone drives it other than a few ATVers who complain that its roughness spills their opened beer containers. I have long contended that maintenance was a waste of taxpayer money and, besides, I was tired of picking up empties tossed out by the careless.
So, the town was out to ditch the roadsides and install culverts to eliminate erosion and wash-outs. I complained, saying, “I know you guys have a legal right to cut 30 feet on either side, but it makes no sense to butcher every tree in order to control erosion. Tree roots have a job to do. They can hold down the soil, so why are we cutting trees to stop erosion? And incidentally, when you get to my place, I hope you’ll consider leaving the trees alone. I rather like them as they are.”
I also called up the operator’s boss, the highway super, and explained the same. To my astonishment, he was totally sympathetic and said that, yes, my trees would be spared and left in peace.
Man and tree gave their thanks and sighed with relief. This small place seemed better than the one I might have been left with. Science had prevailed somehow, and common sense had spoken out. Wow. Had this effort been a homework assignment, I might have walked off with an “A.”