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Monday, May 20, 2013

This Blog Is a Lie

Not entirely, because I do love my life, and I am grateful for it and take joy in it. All that is true. So my blog isn’t a complete lie, but neither is it the “whole” truth, because the pain is as real as the pleasure.

Between me and the road to the woods, a new row of cherry trees
Orchard advances on our old farmhouse, on leased land around us, like an encircling army, coming closer every year. NO ENTRE signs warn of pesticides, and our freedom of movement on all sides is more and more limited – with each passing week, it seems. Our neighbors’ dogs and our Sarah can no longer be allowed to run on the hill between their house and ours, as rows of trees now march up and down that hillside. Of course, the dogs don’t understand. 

When our grandson and his friends visit, they like to explore a certain path to Lake Michigan that has been part of grandson David’s world up here for all his life, as it used to be part of our own before so many big, new houses were built along that stretch of shoreline. The last time the kids were up, I heard from a friend who lives in one of the big houses that “young people – strangers” had been seen on the beach! On private property! This same friend was upset a few years back when a new house was planned on property adjoining that which she and her husband own. “It will be lost to us!” she cried. I told her it had been lost to the rest of us a long time ago. Our grandson, a young man of boundless goodwill and no troublemaker, has not yet accepted the loss.

My husband used to have a house down in the woods in what is now part of Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. We love the Lakeshore and are happy it is public land rather than condos, though it still feels like home to us, very personal. But all visitors are equal under the law, and our dog cannot run off-leash in the old meadow, even under our supervision. I feel as much on the leash as my dog and chafe at the restriction. It’s “the Meadow,” our special place! No one cares.

A few years ago I discovered a lovely wooded ridge with a new road down below and a foot trail along the ridgetop. There were wildflowers in the spring and berries in late summer and early fall. Only once did Sarah and I meet anyone else there, and it was another woman with her dog, and we enjoyed the company. I knew all along, though, that it was only a matter of time before houses would be built there, as the land had already been divided into lots, the road brought in, utilities provided. Last year the first house appeared, halfway down road. No more ridge path exploring.

Another semi-wild spot closer to Northport, old orchard land, was handy for short, quick off-leash expeditions. A golf course is going in there now. Orderly recreation. Lots of people will enjoy it.

More and more I understand the father of the protagonist in Conrad Richter’s The Awakening Land trilogy, who dragged his family from the Pennsylvania woods to the Ohio Territory because Pennsylvania had become too “crowded.” We are fortunate in Leelanau County to have lovely nature trails. I know this. I appreciate the trails. But following a trail, staying on a path, with other walkers and hikers ahead and behind, is not the same as being alone in the woods, and it isn’t anything at all like exploring.

Then there is another, more universal aspect to loss, which is that each passing year brings advancing age and, with it, hovering clouds of future physical limitation. Two or three years ago, for the first time, when I was out hiking wooded hills with my dog, the footing somewhat treacherous, the thought occurred to me: I won’t always be able to do this. Once it occurred, that thought never left. The good part of that is being constantly aware of precious moments and hours while I’m living them; the sad part is picturing their eventual end. 

A chaque âge ses plaisirs, my old friend Hélène used to say. I hope it’s true, but right now I’m not at all interested in finding substitute pleasures. I’m not ready to give up the hikes alone with my dog or the exploring of wild nature or my gardens or my dream of chickens or any other part of my off-road, back-of-beyond country life. And so, sometimes, in the middle of the night or even in the bright light of afternoon, my heart is pierced with sadness. 

No one needs to tell me how lucky I have been for so long. I've been spoiled -- not by wealth (never had it; never will have it) but by freedom of movement. I know that. I'm grateful. Don't often complain. Still....


Dawn said...

Sad. I guess we always expect to be able to run free. When I was a kid of 10 or so there was one vacant lot across the street from our little house. We called it 'the woods' and played there building forts and climbing trees. It was only one lot but it was enough for us. Then we moved across the lake, and down at the end of our street were acres of hills with two streams and we played there building forts, running around in the mud, climbing trees. Each time it was only after we moved that houses went up in 'our' woods, so I never had to witness it. I'm glad about that. And sad that you are witnessing the loss of your own woods and lake.

P. J. Grath said...

Oh, the joy of vacant lots! We had them, too, when I was a kid. Out my bedroom window was a small 40' lot with no trees at all, but it had lots of wildflowers. Down the hill were a couple of others, one with a huge willow tree and, in rainy season, a stream. Yes, those small pieces of wild ground were whole worlds to us, and I feel sorry for kids who grow up without that freedom.

Also across our road then was a farm that grew corn and soybeans in alternating rotation, and in the fall after harvest and all winter long those fields extended the world we could explore. I loved watching sunset across that field from our front porch, dreaming cowgirl dreams.

We were lucky kids, weren't we, Dawn?

Dawn said...

Yes we were.