Swans Commentary » swans.com July 17, 2006  



Chainsaw Massacre


by Deck Deckert





(Swans - July 17, 2006)  The chainsaws are roaring right outside my window, destroying trees that were young when Abraham Lincoln was in the White House. A snarling bulldozer is ripping the soil, uprooting smaller trees near the creek.

It's a sign of "progress."

Three years ago we moved into a house in a forest. We bought an existing home on a double lot in a hilly community filled with homes set among huge trees, small streams, waterfalls, parks and nature trails. Homes were hidden between the cedars, Douglas firs, hemlocks, spruce, beech and maples. Rhododendrons, dogwoods and other flowering trees made spring bright with promise. Summer was a hundred shades of green; fall an impressionist painting. Winters were mild, with snow as an occasional seasoning.

We had no illusions that the community would never change, but it had been first platted in 1969 and had grown slowly over more than 30 years. The association itself owned many lots, we were told, that would never be developed. In fact, the lot next to us had a moratorium on it. We were assured that the community, the association, honored the ecology, revered the forest. When a house was built, 40 percent of the trees would have to be retained.

In fact, trees were so respected, we were assured, that we could not remove one without permission. Shortly after we arrived, we needed to take down a dead tree among the 100 or more trees of varying sizes on our steeply-sloping lot. Three people came out from the Association that managed our community and solemnly declared that we could take out that one tree.

Three years later, our community in a forest has become a subdivision with some trees.

It all began when an eight-year building moratorium ended -- originally implemented because of an inadequate sewage facility. One of the first signs of what was to come became apparent when the lot next to us, the one that was that not to be built on for many years, was put on the market without our knowledge. We first learned of it when my wife, Alma, saw surveyors in the street and discovered that the lot had been sold to a builder who was putting up houses on speculation.

The association had never bothered to tell us that the lot that wasn't to be sold had been sold after all. After a lot of negotiation, we managed to buy it from the builder -- for $6,000 more than he had paid for it the week before.

An orgy of development began. Hundreds of oversized homes were built on undersized lots. Trees towering 100 or more feet came crashing down. Some lots were essentially clear cut, others stripped of their biggest trees while a few saplings were left.

In the beginning, the extent of the destruction was masked. Cleared building sites were still surrounded by trees. The problem was, of course, the trees were on adjoining, as yet uncleared, lots. When the builders moved on to the next lot, often months later because building was in a hopscotch pattern, the trees magically disappeared.

Realtors are now happily touting homes on "sunny lots," meaning most of the trees have been cleared away. A rich diverse forest has been replaced with the monoculture of suburban lawns.

The forest teemed with animals and birds -- deer, Douglas squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, jays, juncos, woodpeckers, thrushes, grosbeaks, chickadees, owls. Some of the animals still remain. Squirrels, for example, have always managed to coexist with humans. But the deer are becoming more and more scarce; rabbits rarely seen. Birds too are becoming scarcer, some of them disappearing entirely.

When something like this happens, as it so depressingly often does, the usual suspects of excuses are trotted out.

You can't expect to be the last person to live in such a beautiful place.

Population is increasing, and we have to put the people somewhere.

A man can do what he wants to with his own property.

You can't stop progress.

That last is the killer. "Progress" is defined only as that which makes the rich elite richer.

The builders and developers are getting richer, the rest of us are getting poorer. A unique community built in a forest has disappeared, replaced by another subdivision, a bit more upscale than some, but a cookie-cutter subdivision nevertheless.

Something wonderful and precious has disappeared and we are all the poorer for it.

"Progress" is another word for destruction.


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art12/rdeck066.html
Published July 17, 2006