By the time the romantic, wild nature of the Hudson River Valley was painted, there were already farms and mills dotting the ‘Wilderness.’ Fortunately for Horace Greeley and the principle of Manifest Destiny, most of the artists chose not to paint them. The next time you are at Yellowstone park, taking digital video of a bubbling mud puddle, you will notice pavement underneath your vehicle as you join the 4-hour traffic jam trying to get to Old Faithful…which is right through those trees, just beyond the stadium-sized parking lot. Wilderness exists…it just isn’t what you think it is: likely closer to what Aldo Leopold called ‘facade mangagement,’ and it certainly isn’t my little acre and a quarter of forest, clearing, and wetland, nor even the 70 acres of forest just beyond. Those are the re-growth of a logging clear-cut, the land inexorably altered decades ago, merely impersonating the wildness of the Northwest Forest.
One of the specific admonitions of the Politicologists was that they ‘didn’t want to see a
landscape, or a bunch of paths.’ The deer that frequent the property had already worn a bunch of paths, however–muddy tracks habitually trod and browsed free of plants, tracks I also used to care for, replace, and enhance the plantings of the original Mitigation Plan; tracks I covered with ground cedar chips–not ‘paths,’ but Elongated Applications of Weed Suppressing Mulch that snake through what now looks kind of like a landscape.
But Yosemite National Park looks kind of like a landscape, and so does the Hoh Rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula; and when I head farther up the Cascade Mountain foothills, that looks like a landscape too. To protect and preserve, to edit and groom, and to make nature accessible to the public is to create a landscape: a contrivance of Wilderness that has to balance the needs of animals, plants, people, AND the ‘public good.’ Sometimes you have to move a rock or cut a tree to make sure everybody gets what they want. I am “cultivating Nature,” but I cannot create ‘Wilderness;’ no one can, I think, and true wilderness was gone sometime between the arrival of the second buckskin-clad explorer and when my great-great uncle took an axe to it a hundred and ten years ago.
And so as Nature and Widerness, native plants, non-native, and invasive are conflated and debated, I am compelled to cultivate and contrive. But what if I were not me? Any other person might have accepted the Mitigation Plan, hired the planner to monitor and
direct placement of plants, sprayed some Roundup around, bided their time through the mitigation period, maybe even gotten their bond back for having given ‘good faith’ (as I can only assume that the Planner, having failed with her initial plan, would have directed the same activities repeatedly). They might also have tired of paying hundreds or thousands annually for failed plantings, might have grown tired of looking at the brown dead twigginess and done something else, might have even sold the house; and then the next owner might have, easily could have, built that sport court I joked about. To pursue a public ecological policy that separates a private-property owner from their land, that can detract from its value, that can damage structures, can prevent enjoyment of the land, can cause resentment of the policy and of the land itself, is to deny that humans are animals, humans are part of Nature. If you don’t love your land, can you care about it? Care for it?
I refuse to be separated from my land. Maybe I ‘fired’ the Planner by not hiring her, maybe I have ‘broken the law’ by not adhering to the original plan; but ‘Native plants only’ is what the City wants, and that is what they will get. Back-breaking labor and I have a longtime gentlemen’s understanding; I know enough to be stupid enough to think I know a thing or two; I regularly comb the property for English ivy sproutlings and can tell the difference between Oregon grape and common holly, when small; and most importantly, when wronged I have a need to be right that borders on the pathological and makes me relentless (just ask my wife). The City may not be getting what they demanded, but I think they got the question wrong…it should have been, How do you create a cooperative relationship between Nature, public ecological policy, and private property ownership? A midpoint between ecological sensitivity and sustainability, and usability… I am working on it.
Next, green or ‘Green?’ Part Five: I am singled out. That’s okay, to a point.