Friday, September 28, 2012

The Trespasser

My first autumn here, in 1998, a red pickup tore out from the woods through the meadow, skidded in a spray of gravel onto my lane and down and away onto Highway F. Caught a glimpse of the driver -- a bald old man with his mouth gaping like Pac-Man -- and the license plate: New Mexico. I followed the tire tracks and crushed grass back into the woods. The trespasser had made my woods his dump. He hadn't dumped anything identifiable, though, just cans, bottles, rusted oil drums, old miniblinds, an old sink, and so on.

Called the sheriff. Two deputies came and asked me everything except my personal body measurements. I led them into the woods and showed them the fresh dump. They knew who the dumper was but pretended they didn't; only one old bald guy around here had a big brand-new red pickup with a New Mexico plate, and if I hadn't been so new I would have known him, too: the area's biggest landowner and richest man.

Every day I marched back into the woods and hauled out heavy bagsful of his trash. I did it 18 times before I got tired of it, and some of it is still there. At the spot where he'd driven across the meadow and between trees into the woods I wanted to erect a barrier. I couldn't haul stones big enough. Finally down near the road I found sawn pieces of a tree trunk. I couldn't lift them so I lugged and dragged five pieces uphill and down my lane one by one. It was the hardest physical labor I have ever done. Set up four of the pieces in a row.

The photo shows three of them. All four are are still there, and behind them, instead of open meadow, are young oaks The oaks are my work, too. While hauling trash I noticed that the red cedar trees, nice enough but an invasive, non-native species, were choking off the young oaks and hickories. So every possible day for several seasons I went into the meadow and yanked, chopped, clipped and uprooted all red cedars I could. If the cedar trunk was big enough, the stump wept sticky red tears like blood. I did it for the native oaks and hickories.

Today the barrier of stumps still stands and behind it are several stands of young oak trees gaining strength every day, and no one's going to be driving his pickup truck between them anytime soon.

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