When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locusts
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
When I Am Among The Trees – Mary Oliver
These past dozen or so years I have tried very hard to minimize my impact on this world. I consume very little, I avoid single use plastic and products with heavy chemicals. So, when Charles and I decided to build our home we (read: I) decided we would build it with minimal impact to the environment.
Note: I get the feeling builders don’t like to see people like me coming.
The first thing I told our architect was “minimal footprint.” We are building a house for just the two of us. We only want to build a house we actually need. Over six weeks of back and forth, we had our plans. After surveying the property, checking out what would be my view from all sides, and consulting with the guy who would pour the foundation, we (again, read: I) decided where the house would sit; in the middle of a stand of very mature sugarberry trees, one of which has the appearance of a wise old wizard. There are some black jack trees in the middle that, regretfully, will have to be removed. I apologized to the black jacks and promised to pull an acorn from each and plant a descendant for each of them elsewhere on the property. This really was the only place for the house to go without moving enormous amounts of dirt and rock, upsetting the natural flow of things and putting the house out of our budget in the bargain.
I promised the three sugarberry trees they could stay. We would build the house right in the middle of them. Then the foundation guy said 5 feet of dirt would have to be moved south to north to offset the large slope. Plus the house would be too close to the northern most tree. This location has the least slope, so this is where the house has to go. He kept saying, as foundation guys are won’t to do, it would be so much easier if we took all the trees down. Foundation guys love to remove trees it seems. I fussed and refused. I had, after all, promised the trees they would not be sacrificed for my whim. I had committed to not impacting the environment while building our house.
But, Charles, my beloved voice of reason, suggested that in trying to save every tree, I would probably end up killing them all due to the relocation of 5 feet of dirt. But by removing the one, and moving the house just a few feet north, we could save two of the three. My stubborn streak was still determined so I called a tree man and told him my problem. He said he would be happy to come dig up the tree in question and transplant it somewhere else on the property.
“Tree that size,” he says, “will take a crane.”
“Ah, so it can be done.”
“Oh, sure. I did one that size last week. It runs about $10,000 and, of course, there is no guarantee the tree will live. In fact, it probably won’t.”
The tree man did concur with Charles though. The displacement of 5 feet of around the one tree and the addition of 5 foot of dirt around the other would most likely kill them both. It was better to remove the one to save the others.
My heart just sank. On the one hand, it is a tree. On the other hand, it is a TREE.
Charles suggested that we have something nice made from the wood to honor the tree. A bowl, a bench, or even a mantel for the fireplace. I like that idea, but I still feel awful.
Today I had to tell the tree what was going to happen, and I apologized. The only way around it is to not build the house. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I had promised I would not negatively impact this environment and here I am doing it before the first stone is unturned.” I made him the same promise that I made to the blackjacks, to plant a seedling to carry on his legacy. The tree was forgiving, I think. At least it didn’t drop a branch on me. Maybe this is just what trees expect of us; broken promises in the face of inconvenience.
But, what about all the trees that will be sacrificed for the wood that makes my house? What about the trees that made up my dining room table and the desk I am currently sitting at? What about the paper in the stacks of journals I have filled? How many bugs do I kill on my daily commute?
I’ll take hypocrisy for $50, Alex.
The family of deer that lives out here will be negatively impacted as the building crews arrive. The plant life will suffer when the crew starts to level the ground for the pad. Multitudes of tiny creatures will be displaced, frightened, or even killed from the simple act of my building a home here. If I had to personally witness each casualty, the guilt might be too much for me. I will try to make it up to everyone in the way we live when we move in.
So, I have to come to terms with the fact that my home will change the landscape, literally and figuratively on a place that has sat undisturbed for many years. The only other option is to halt construction and continue to live in the rental house on a city lot; something I cannot bring myself to do. I’m being pulled here. It brings me peace and joy. A peaceful, joyful me is the best gift I can give the planet.
The truth is, building my home or not, I cannot live on this planet without causing harm. None of us can. The best I can do, is the best I can do.