W & W 20: The Day a Stump and I Cried Together

On June 2, 2019, I intended to do a Walk & Write on the North Country Trail near home. I had just recently agreed to “adopt” this 5-mile section of trail to monitor it for litter, branches across the pathway, and general overseeing of its integrity.

I started out checking the sign-in box to make sure there were plenty of brochures for visitors and that the journal was dry and tidy. I read an entry from a woman who lives in Minnesota who is doing a “half-way thru-hike” of the NCT working her way to North Dakota! Then, I began my maintenance walk by kicking aside twigs and small branches that could be tripping hazards. I was excited to go to the half-way mark for me, which would be pretty little Sand Lake. It is a small inland lake with no homes around its perimeters, just trees, glorious trees!

Sand Lake, Antrim County, Michigan

My hike started out great and I looked forward to doing a “write” along the shores of Sand Lake after doing my chores for the first 2.5 miles. I discovered these beauties as I walked:

As I got closer and closer to Sand Lake, the landscape started looking a little strange. The trees were getting sparser and sparser. I didn’t remember it looking like this when I last hiked this section the first week of May. Only a month had gone by since hiking here. I could see open areas on either side of me and then I came to an abrupt halt. The trail stopped and I found myself on the edge of a war zone! All of the trees had been cut. Every single one of them, except for two that held the “blue blazes” designating the pathway of the North Country Trail.

What on earth! My jaw dropped open. I was so confused. What happened!

Absolute devastation. A large section of the forest had been clear-cut. I made my way around branches, twigs, and broken bark. I began to cry and cry and cry. I felt death’s lingering presence all around me. And then I came upon this.

Yes, a forgotten stump was crying too. Crying for the loss of his extended family. Crying for the loss of its hands and feet. And so we cried together. Then I wrote this haiku:

Stump cries in anguish

All my brothers, my sisters,

felled and hauled away.

by Ellen Schettling Whitehead

When I finally picked my way through the mess and found myself at the edge of Sand Lake. I no longer felt like writing. Sometimes you just have to grieve. Grieve and then fight back.

Clear-cutting of aspen stands is apparently a common and accepted practice by the Department of Natural Resources and United States Forest Service. They are considered “junk” trees. However, I find them aesthetically pleasing with their perfect sawtooth leaves that turn bright yellow in autumn. The flutter of their leaves in the wind is a song like no other, like tiny ripples in the air, the quaking aspen.

I plan to attend a public meeting later this month to learn about how the DNR and USFS monitor and manage our forests. I plan to give them a piece of my mind. Someone needs to stand up for the trees who speak their own silent language. Too bad not many understand what stories they have to tell us.

A cold wind was blowing from the north

and it made the trees rustle like living things.

George R. R. Martin, “A Game of Thrones”

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