I personally think the quality of endurance is underrated. Remember Celie in The Color Purple? After living through hell this woman became who she was meant to be. Sometimes endurance does seem to be the way through. Just now the Woman’s Movement seems to be quite dead, but perhaps if we can just endure in time this situation may shift. That at least is my fervent hope.
Endurance and the Long Winding Road
From the day I bought this property almost 40 years ago I walked down this lovely road with a sense of the deepest pleasure. The trees were young then. In spring wild cherries burst with pure white or rosy pink blossoms, the bark of each a different hue, emerald pines bore startling white candles, chattering poplars multiplied, pale gray and pearl white birches leaned in for intimate conversation, smooth barked red maples graced open spaces all lemony lime in spring – leaves and needles etched against cobalt blue. The trees were healthy then.
In the winter my road bowed low with powdery snow, the birches and other deciduous trees were penned in charcoal, white pine needles still bright green, a few doves cooed from the wire, grouse hieroglyphics created patterns in the snow…an old road led to a ridge where a clump of my favorite trees graced a young hill sharply outlined by snow in winter, pale grasses during the other three seasons, and below that my hideaway…
Every day I walked that winding road visiting with the young trees ever watchful for their newest neighbors to arrive. This had once been farmland and now the earth was returning to her natural state; the forest was just a child, birthing herself out of ancient patterns, and the knowledge and wisdom of four billion years.
Year after year I walked the road as the trees grew taller and woodlands closed in around the edges. The road was ever narrowing and I loved being closed in by such wondrous beings.
I had the place to myself then. Wildlife abounded around the little camp I lived in during three seasons of the year crowned by a boulder strewn waterfall and a brook so clear the water clams shone like silver dollars unless frozen under winter ice and snow. Mink, otters. weasels, rabbits and hares, coyotes, foxes, and deer were my beloved neighbors, and in the spring the bears would come. Friendships deepened. We shared this 20 acre patch of earth as equals rejoicing in her bounty, feasting on strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, huckleberries as ONE.
Every time I walked down the road I looked towards Moody mountain, still pristine, feeling as if I was actually walking into the mountain itself by way of the road. I belonged here; the field rose up embracing me like a mother the first summer I picked her berries. In back of my property some logging had occurred but only a few trees were taken and those had been removed with care. The roads were narrow and winding too; the forest was healthy, the air pure. clean and green. Just up the hill through the woods the moon tide spring bubbled up from beneath the mountain. I lived in a paradise and knew it.
Year passed. Someone bought land that bordered mine, and that of my friend Roy’s who owned lots of land near the top of the mountain. Roy, one of the kindest men I have ever known made an oddly uncharacteristic remark about the new owner shortly after his arrival. ”This guy thinks he’s the king of mountain.” Something in me crouched like an animal ready to spring.
One day a couple of years later I saw the dreaded stakes in the ground when I reached the top of my road. Someone had finally brought the property to the left just above my land. A woman in the guise of informer with a knife in her twisted heart couldn’t wait to let me know the land had been sold. Gleefully she brought me the news, deflating like a balloon when I responded that I already knew.
That spring my road was invaded by machines that toppled my trees bending one pine double, and breaking many of its branches. Garbage was strewn around. I put up a metal wire across the road to block the machines from turning around at the bottom of the hill. Soon new neighbors moved into a menacing yellow metal box. A walmart special. At least they built on top of the hill and the ugly building didn’t stick out on the road. Within a few months, another neighbor across the road was building too. I first met her with her son in law striding across my field with a free roaming lab. Free roaming human spiders. I had a small terrier then who was frightened of big dogs. When I asked the strangers to restrain their animal the response was loud and coarse, belligerent, “she just wants to play”. With my dog who didn’t; on my land, uninvited. Total dismissal. I picked up Star and asked politely what these people wanted. The son in law who I now recognized as the neighbor up the hill behind me, the one Roy called “the king,” informed me that his mother –in –law had bought the land and it was her house that was being built. Ugly as that one was, it too was at the top of the road, and there were covenants in our deeds that I believed would prevent all of us from building more than a house and a garage (I already had a small 6x 8 camp built for under a thousand dollars on the stream which didn’t count as a building).
Walking up my road became something of an issue with the newest neighbor’s dog who lunged out into the road every time we walked by intimidating and terrifying my little terrier. Bullying was rife. And yet, I remained grateful because most of the road was still intact, and I could still imagine walking into the mountain on my return as I always did, so I did the best I could to adjust… little did I know I was about to enter neighbor hell, a hell I couldn’t even imagine.
The trees kept growing along the road and now it was well shaded during the summer months, especially in the early mornings. Yellow and red chickweed provided splashes of color in the spring before all the wild cherry blossoms appeared. Lots of ground cedar etched the curves with blue gray berries, each fall mixing with bouquets of goldenrod, wild asters, black eyed susans, daises, and milkweed, Creeping nitrogen rich blue vetch that I adored wound itself around all the other plants. A beautiful peaceful road still, until I reached the top.
In 2015, seven years ago, the neighbor in the metal box went beserk and mangled every tree that bordered the road on his side hacking arms to pieces, chopping off heads, mutilating tree bodies. The pines wept and bled and so did I. Only skeletons of dying trees remained as pitiful sentries. Our beautiful road had been brutalized by a madman. I wasn’t the only person in shock. When anyone came down the road they asked me why so many trees had lost their crowns and limbs – what was the point – often remarking that only a crazy person would create such mindless destruction. For a long time I just shook my head. That was seven years ago. The remarkable part of this story is despite apparent annihilation, mangled, half dead trees endured. The land began to heal.
Last year the bullying neighbor died and her house was sold to a young man and his wife who did not tell me they were going to use it as an income property. This first warning went unnoticed by me. When I discovered the crazy man’s house was for sale, I put my house up for sale and then took it off the market for a number of reasons, realizing first of all that I had panicked when I broke my foot and couldn’t get help during that terrible winter. I leaned into practical forgetting how much I loved this land, how unwilling I was to leave it. However, I had another compelling reason to stay when I found out that ugly neighbor was leaving!
When he finally vacated in July I was jubilant, feeling free for the first time in 19 years from the influence of bullies and crazy people. I am still trying to get used to walking up my road in peace, and this peace emanates from all the recovering trees that have done an amazing job of undoing the damage this terrible man left behind. Endurance wins out, they hum. Now they enter each pore of my skin letting me know that they are FREE to grow into whoever they were becoming before the holocaust hit.
Perhaps the same is true for me.
Of course, having new neighbors move in is always a gamble but after 19 years of brutal neighbor abuse I hoped I was more wary. I do know that the good neighbor policy only works if all those involved are truly willing to cooperate. A couple of things have happened already that have made me uneasy. We’ll see….
Yesterday, grouse and her children were out and about as was Red Deer our resident pruning friend while the dogs and I walked up the hill after checking on the monarch caterpillar. The foxes are back. Even the animals seem to be moving more freely than they were even a month ago. After so many bears were bombed and shot at they disappeared too after lived around here for so many years. Their habitat is gone. All the land behind me has been stripped or logged as has the forest across the road so the bears will not be back but their spirits live on…. one night I dreamed that every bear I loved had come ‘home’ to live on this beloved land with me, first in body, now in spirit. I was then, and still am, at peace because of that simple dream. I loved my bears but am glad they are gone, hopefully to a more bear friendly place.
Endurance, I have come to see, is truly a virtue. But I have also learned that I must do whatever I can to care for myself as well as for the land I love, putting my needs first, not those belonging to my human neighbors.
BIO: Sara Wright is a naturalist, ethologist (a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.