Ranger Kathryn's Arches

November 20, 2011

I went to the woods

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.                — Henry David Thoreau

I am newly back home in Minnesota on furlough, at the house I built four years ago in the woods. It has waited all season for me, now welcomes me, says “It’s good you’re here.” I’ve raked leaves, pulled weeds, walked the deer trails on my 1.25 acre, and made friends with the squirrels again. But something is amiss.

My new view, formerly all woods.

There is a new house under construction next door.

An entire swath of deciduous beauty has been expunged. Six days a week, nine hours a day, hammering and drilling and sawing and backhoe noises fill my ears. Carpenters are framing an imposing multiple-thousand-square-foot home in a spot that used to be “my” woods. Even if it wasn’t really mine, the young forest buffered me from the little-used dirt road, from ambient light, from blustery winds, from locals’ eyes. For years I’ve been its only occupant.

Encroachment on my treasured solitude was inevitable, only a matter of time. It is my own presumptuousness that creates the feeling of trespass, as if I had guaranteed right to my modest patch of what tepidly passes for ‘wilderness’ in a midwestern farming county. But my heart rebels. The Tyvek is, literally, a stone’s throw away.

I am achingly aware that this is a first-world problem. If you know me, you know I’m not asking “How will I feel when this large structure blocks the sunset as I sit on my screen porch?” — not when “Where will I find water and food for my children?” is each day’s question for untold millions in our world. This isn’t about the view, or the future neighbors. It’s just a sober realization that my secluded woods, my refuge from civilization, my comforting cocoon of foliage, is changing. Forever.


  1. Change . . . the only ‘constant’ in our lives. Transience . . . impermanence . . . the essence of our very existence.
    Thoreau was right. The messages abound if we but learn to listen.

    Comment by Leroque — November 20, 2011 @ 12:11 pm | Reply

    • After I sighed at the perplexity of change, I wondered aloud whether Henry David sat around sighing a lot. Those transcendentalists were quite a bunch.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — November 20, 2011 @ 4:22 pm | Reply

      • My guess is that sighing in perplexity was an entrance requirement for budding transcendentalists . . .

        Comment by Leroque — November 20, 2011 @ 5:29 pm

  2. At least it will improve the value of your house when you sell it and buy a gypsy wagon to carry you in style from one beautiful National Park to another.

    Comment by midsummerman — November 20, 2011 @ 12:30 pm | Reply

    • I’d also need a mule team to pull said wagon. I’m liking the mental image of Ranger Kathryn high on the buckboard, reins in hand, consulting a map (not GPS — too anachronistic), ready to head over the San Rafael Swell… I’m feeling the pioneer urge. Or gypsy.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — November 20, 2011 @ 4:15 pm | Reply

  3. not to mention how it will affect my deer hunting 😦

    Comment by john — November 20, 2011 @ 1:01 pm | Reply

    • Seriously. Big drawback. The animals are, however, still very present.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — November 20, 2011 @ 4:12 pm | Reply

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