Almost two months of fairly enforced idleness (gardenwise, anyway) have given me ample opportunity to look out the window at my past labors and think about this land–shortly mine no longer–the health of the forest, and property restrictions in the abstract.
I have been here just two and a half years, and it is a scant three since ground was broken for this house. Taking up a slight 1,500 square-foot ‘footprint,’ little more than that 1,500 square feet was cleared to build it: 1,600 square feet, to be exact. One thousand, six hundred square feet of scrub growth and one almost timberish tree…out of the 54,000 square feet I own. Not much of this second-growth forest was harmed. And that is out of the 1,600 or so acres behind my house. 1,600 square feet of impact out of 68,000,000 square feet of forest. My calculator doesn’t even have enough decimal places to express that as a percentage.
I feel reasonably certain the forest never even knew I was here. The birds and the ground animals quickly grew accustomed to my constant presence; the larger animals and predators made their spectral rounds; and the Mountain Beavers feasted on the largesse of my plantings. But overall, while I increased the number of plants in the clearing and ‘wetland buffer’ from the original 289 to almost a thousand and carpeted the ground with moss, my actions have been the merest ephemera in the long action known as the forest cycle.
The restrictions on my property were very real. The restrictions on me, although I signed papers, had them notarized, and locked away Schroedinger’s Damage Deposit, may have only been empty threats articulated by over-empowered bureaucrats. I may never actually know. What I do know is that while I started out only to recover those funds, I wound up actually caring. Quite a bit, in fact. As I watch my moss grow and consider the rich interior that is me, the thoughts, impulses, the emotions, the guts and the black stuff, I still cannot precisely figure out why. I only wanted my money back, with a heaping side helping of being right.
I still believe that property restrictions–generalized, codified, governmentally-mandated ones–are wrong. Humanity is a part of any ecosystem it touches, for good or bad. Trying to keep us out, to keep us off the land, can only prevent an attitude of caring to develop. Far better, I think, to utilize the existing “restrictions” that come with noxious weed and plant lists. The State, counties, and municipalities should be out eradicating these plants on their own land, and strongly encouraging private property owners to do likewise. Those plants known to be invasive, aggressive, and harmful should NOT be sold in nurseries–voluntarily at first, then compulsorily if compliance is poor. These policies should occur in lockstep with making comprehensive information available on sound landscape and ecological process, and provide this information to homeowners, developers, and commercial property owners. There should be an equilibrium of requirement for ALL property owners, regardless of size or perceived economic value…and that should include government entities themselves.
There is an irony for me in all this (an irony beyond gardening ‘in secret’ while broadcasting my actions to the world), in that my great-grand relatives were the homesteaders, the farmers, loggers, and commercial fishermen, who opened up this region for its proliferate development. While the idea of denuding majestic Douglas fir forests and pushing Pacific salmon runs to the brink of extinction were not theirs, they certainly participated in these activities; and while being of pioneer stock was once a point of regional pride, the world has changed and now these things are looked upon askance, to say the least. (Although I can say that my family housed and fed your family a hundred years ago. So there.) While I may have started out only to get my money back, the notion of being right caused me to get very educated on native plants, forest biology, and prevailing thought VERY quickly. This self-education then took me on to earth sciences, regional history, generalized and historical botany, humanities and current events, and other rich auto-didactic pursuits which allowed me to consume more printed knowledge in the past two years than in high school and college combined. So…Politicologists and stupid Mitigation Planner: thanks for that. I am a more educated person than I was before, and I would not otherwise be so.
And a better person, more whole. To have immersed myself in the regional, cultural, historic, economic, and political pan-bibliography of this area has given me a better understanding of myself and where I ‘come from,’ both historically and in the present. By giving stewardship to my forest and care for the water that filters out of my swamp and into the lake across the street, and from there into several streams that drain into two large lakes, and from there into the Puget Sound, where all this water converges to form the only wild urban salmon and steelhead runs in the world: I have closed the open loop of family history. My family’s circle is now complete and will remain so, because caring for this woodland and this wetland is not my job anymore. In spite of myself, I will miss it.