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.

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