The Mystical Silence of Trees

Growing up on a farm, I always loved our woods more than our open lands. There’s something mystical about the silence that reigns there. Except that today the woods aren’t silent. The sounds of chain saws, de-limbers, and skidders are in the air. I don’t know how to feel about the changes.


It’s my land… so if I’m of two minds about it, why are they here?

Let me explain.

In 1999 my husband and I moved into our new home in the woods where I grew up. Just at Christmas in 2000, a large part of the country experienced the worst ice storm EVER. We were without power for over a week. Some had none for more than three weeks. I felt like a real pioneer woman as I chopped ice into small blocks and brought them in to heat on the stove so we could have water to flush the toilet.

On that first night and morning, as transformers exploded all over Texarkana, we listened to what sounded like a war being fought in the woods all around us. We had sufficient time to draw up lots of water before we lost electricity, so we did all right for drinking water.

But we had to leave our lovely [all-electric] home and stay with my mother at the old home place, because she had butane heaters. My son, his new wife, my four-year-old grandson, and two new puppies moved in, too.

We survived, of course. But many of our beautiful trees did not. Limbs continued to fall well into the next summer.

Eventually we decided to have some of the worst-hit trees cut, to give the remaining ones a better chance at survival. Mr. Tim, the timber man, told me to walk through with a can of spray paint and mark any trees that I “for sure” didn’t want cut. He, of course, was most interested in the huge trees, over 100 years old, whose trunks sometimes measured four feet in diameter.

Bill and I began to walk the woods, and I began to spray trees. Each one I didn’t spray hurt my heart a bit more. By about the seventh tree I had decided to let them cut, I was standing in the middle of the woods in tears.

“I don’t think I can do this,” I said, sniffling.

“Then don’t do it,” Bill said. “We’ll just call him and tell him we changed our minds.”

So we did. A few more years passed. More trees died. The woods were no longer such a haven – too much detritus covered the old trails. Finally I relented and allowed some of the trees to be cut – but still not the biggest ones, the “grandfather trees.”

Now they’re dying, too. A disease similar to cancer is wending its way across the land, and some sort of fungus is taking out other trees. One after another, the big old oaks are either dying or getting so diseased they’re falling apart limb by limb.

Back during the ice storm, many branches that pointed skyward snapped under the weight of the ice, leaving gaping holes that apparently served as sponges to allow all sorts of trouble-makers access to the trees’ interiors.

So Mr. Tim and his crew started work today. I know it’s for the best, but it’s still sad. He will leave the biggest, widest spreading trees, because they are not worth nearly as much as the taller, straighter ones. Besides, it’s those far-reaching arms that are so welcoming to our squirrels and birds, raccoons and possums. Those I get to keep. (I’m glad for their diminished monetary value.)

Yesterday Mr. Tim brought the head logger over to meet us. While they were here, a squall line came through, with sheets of rain rushing across the fields, lightning flashing close by, and winds whipping the limbs of our big oak and ash trees out front in first one direction and then another.

It lasted but a few minutes.

Later we drove up our quarter-mile driveway, taking our grandson home after he’d spent a couple of nights with us. When we neared the main road, there ahead of us, covering the drive completely, was a large branch that had been blown out of a big oak just across on the neighbor’s side of the fence. We drove through the yard to avoid it and got Tyler back home.

Just before dark, Bill took his chain saw and began cutting off small pieces so we could clear the drive. The limb, wedged high in the tree at a dangerous angle, began to shift. He stopped cutting and went to get our neighbor. With a very large tractor, they managed to pull the limb loose and get it on the ground – only then did I stop worrying about their safety.

When some of the green tops had been cleared away, we saw the tracks where Mr. Tim had driven under the limb to leave, just after the storm quieted.

Isn’t it fitting that we all had to deal with a tree that has suffered like many of the others, on the day before the cutting began? Dang that ice storm!

My daughter has always been a lover of nature. Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax impacted her greatly, sending her into environmental science as a career. In her “old soul,” she surely must have been a dryad. “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees,” the little man said…but nobody listened.

That’s why I’m feeling guilty today. Although I know it will be good for our woods as a whole, it still doesn’t make me a happy camper. I met up with a neighbor last week who has a couple of dozers. When I told him I might need him to do some cleaning up in a few weeks because we were having some trees cut, he said, simply, “I’m sorry.” He meant it. He has chosen to let his trees keep dying at their own pace.

Maybe I should, too. But it’s too late now. They’re starting toward the back of the property, and they understand I want a large buffer of trees here around the house. Yet we have chosen not to go to Mississippi this weekend…I don’t trust anybody that much! I have to be here. I have to speak for the trees.

And as the Native Americans did when they killed a buffalo or other food animal, I will have to apologize to the trees that are taken away.

And I wonder…will the mystical feelings ever return?

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