Friends of Alewife Reservation (FAR)        Join Email List     DONATE!
Get email when website is updated

it's private

Listen to silver maple forest
By Virginia Fuller
Guest Column February 9, 2006 Belmont Citizen-Herald

In a perfect world, Brian O'Neill deeds the Uplands to the Department of Conservation and Recreation, as Darrell King suggests in his Guest Perspective [Jan. 26]. It's a generous gesture, giving the wealthy Mr. O'Neill a nice tax break while giving Belmont the open space that most people seem to agree is the best use of the land. In the face of such generosity, the town reciprocates by forgiving Mr. O'Neill his debt of close to half a million dollars.

The happy exchange follows the news that neither the Uplands nor the rink site are in the FEMA flood insurance zone, indicating that the former may be as valuable for water storage as the latter. This breaks the logjam, making housing on the rink site acceptable to our friends in Arlington. And that is the very moment that Mr. O'Neill decides that the rink site is the perfect place for 40B.

Sounds like everybody comes out a winner. Sounds like smart growth to me.

Now, this may also sound like a fable - and it is. But it is a fable that would be far more desirable for our town than the alternative:

Requiem for a forest

For weeks, from early morning to late afternoon, the air has been filled with the merciless whine of chainsaws, punctuated by the thunder of trees falling to earth. The sound is unremitting, as shadowed thickets and hidden copses are destroyed, driving out the wildlife forever, transforming a forest into a landscape of devastation and ugliness.

"Humanity is cutting down its forests, apparently oblivious to the fact that we may not be able to live without them." - Isaac Azimov

The floor of the silver maple forest is now littered with the bodies of trees that are still tender and green in their broken places. Some are barely saplings, while others before the clear-cutting commenced could have been said to be majestic in their girth and strength. In what were once lush secret glades, stumps and branches and boughs have lost their grace, piled one upon the other in harsh angles that no longer have the symmetry of nature but the disorder of destruction.

"The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way." - William Blake

The hollowed out places within those trees that provided homes for the woodpecker and other cavity nesters gape open to the sky. What was once the great Mother Tree is now a pile of deadwood and upended roots. From above, unfiltered by any canopy of leaves, the sun's rays touch the ruined land.

Clear-cut is the term. Then there will be cleanup. Then there will be pavement.

"How can you expect the birds to sing when their groves are cut down?" - Henry David Thoreau

Gone now is the magical orchestration of the sounds of nature, of its unseen creatures busy with a complex array of tasks and pursuits. Gone the message to each of us that we hear in solitary contemplation - the birdsong, the scampering but unseen feet, the sudden swoosh of a wing or a wild call high overhead.

"Who among those people with a cultivated spirit, or whose heart has been wounded, can walk in a forest without the forest speaking to him?" - Honoré de Balzac

Before the bulldozers, before the chainsaws, in a world in which this desolate landscape does not yet exist, I walked one day in the silver maple forest. I was not there alone, for the forest teemed with life. Along its mossy banks, tracks told stories, and deep within the tangled thickets, the denizens of the forest pursued their lives beyond my sight in their secret, hidden world. And as I walked, I thought about the choice that faces our town.

It is not too late. Not too late to listen to the words of those whose legacy of language and wisdom implores us to think carefully. Not too late to save those trees and the wildlife that lives among them. Not too late to step back from a decision that would impoverish our town in ways that are not financial and take something precious from our children. Not too late - but the clock is ticking.

Virginia Fuller is a Hurley Street resident.