Sunday, January 4, 2009

I, Tree Hugger

I was pondering this morning why I tend to be such a tree-hugger and despise the traditional lawn as I do. Part of it has to do with growing up in the Pacific Northwest and spending much of my time outside camping, hiking, and the like. We took nature tours where the guide would point out all the different plants and how they fit into their environment - maybe that is kinda nerdy, but I loved it as a child. I became a lover of nature and all the critters that dwell there. At home, half of our yard was landscaped (and also included a HUGE veggie garden) and the other half was left au-natural for the critters and for us to enjoy a native landscape. I used to love to explore that part of the yard.

But what really made an impression on me was what the new neighbors behind our property did to the native plants on their property after they moved in. I must have been around 8 years old when this happened. Our property looked directly into the next property and the old lady that lived there left a big chunk of that property as nature intended, so all we saw was a wooded area - no house or ugly fence to obstruct the view of the woods. It was filled with wonderful native trees and plants including vine maples, filberts, johnny-jump ups, trilliums, vanilla leaf, red huckleberry, native pacific blackberries, wild strawberries, pacific dogwood, native ferns, salmon berries, pacific red elderberries, big-leaf maples, and mountain ash. All kinds of birds and critters enjoyed the native woodland. But then, she passed away and new owners took over.

The first thing they did was bring in a big bulldozer and proceeded to crush and destroy every living thing on the property. I was HORRIFIED. I tried to save all the little wild plants I could with my little shovel and bucket. I dug what I could up and moved them into our woodland area. I cried when I watched all the nests of baby birds go down and were crushed. Once the land was cleared, they burned off what was left and proceeded to put in a big mono-culture grass lawn and a big ugly fence between the properties. They then put in a kennel for their dogs that they never cleaned and smelled awful (not to mention the rat problems that dirty kennel incurred). I think the dogs were hunting dogs, as they were never let out of the small kennel except when they left on vacation on occasion. I felt bad for those animals. They would bark and bark and bark - I am sure they wanted attention and a clean place to lay down.

Anyway, they never took care of the lawn after they planted it and never ever used it, other than to occasionally drive the riding lawn mower over it and throw piles of fertilizer and pesticides on it only to have that wash down the incline into the creek below. Oh, and to endlessly water it in the summer (again it was on an incline so the water would just run down the hill.) I was so dumbfounded as to why someone would do that to such a pretty landscape. I mean, they had a nice small manicured lawn on the flat part of the property that the old lady took fabulous care of. It's not like they were sans-lawn. Couldn't they have left a little of the wild scape alone? It's not like they used the lawn after they planted it. And all those poor critters lost their home and we had to look at a big-ass ugly fence and listen to neglected dogs bark all day and night.

Now I get that they purchased the property and that they had every right to do with it what they want. But that doesn't mean they should, or that it is right. I would have liked to have seen them show a little more respect for the land than that - not to mention the creek below that got the brunt of the fertilizer. As a result, whenever a see a big-ol lawn, I think of what used to be there and how all those plants and critters no longer have a home. And that my friends is a big reason why I am such a tree-hugger.


Annie in Austin said...

Your story is heartbreaking, Treehugger-Lee17 and the destruction of a beautiful place sure did scar that poor little 8-year old.

It wasn't simply the removal of nature either - like paving paradise and putting up a parking lot - but the reversal of nature.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Anonymous said...

I agree with Annie, a tradgic tale. I just don't understand some people, perhaps they just have no understanding and therefore no appreciation of nature and it's balance. I totally relate on the dog front. Unfortunately, our house is flanked with a duplex usually full of students and young people, it is always in habitant flux. A few months ago a couple of dogs moved in and an owner that really should not have any dogs at all! These two dogs are out in all weather and have very little warmth and shelter. Through no fault of their own the dogs have turned the yard into dirt, no vegatation left. The owner also just leaves their waste lying about, never cleaning it up... unbelievable! As a result our yard now smells like a zoo, especially with a southerly wind. A recent statistic for the Austin area is that there are an est.100,000 dogs. Each of these dogs produce on average about 1/2lb of crap a day! We have wrote to the owner of the dogs - no change. Our next step is to contact 311 and report them. They will then send an inspector out to deem if it is unsanitary...I know it is.
It is a city ordinance, fines can ensue.
Some people!

Bob said...

I more than feel your pain. I have always lived in the country and can only live in the country. I have been chased by developement my whole life, developement caused by so many people moving here.
Our homestead is under water where Decker Lake is now. We had to move because of Austin needing more electricity for the advancing hordes. Then the city caught up with us again just as I went into the service. Mom and Dad moved again. I returned and have moved twice more because Austin kept catching up. I will move again as sub-divisions are being built not far from where I live now. Growth equates to habitat loss for all animals. No human can live with out animals dying for them to be here. All we can do is try to keep it to a minumum. So, with that aside, what lived where you live now? See what I mean.

Lee17 said...


You know, I had not realized what an impression that episode in my life made on me until recently when I was sitting outside on my porch looking at the boring plain-ness of my subdivision. I was thinking about how I try to put what little bit of nature I can back in my little tiny plot and why it was so important to me - and there it was - that scene from when I was a kid.

And you are so right - it was the complete reversal of nature and was all very tragic, really. Now I am on a mission to revert as much land as I posses back to some semblance of nature (which happens to be a tiny little plot at the present, but it's what I've got!)

Lee17 said...


See? Now why do people have to be like that? Those poor dogs! It is so not their fault. They are stuck with awful owners that care about nothing but themselves. Those dog owners should be forced to live in the same awful conditions and see how they like it. Animals are not a possession like a table or a chair - they are sentient beings and desrve to be treated with respect. What is this world coming to? Sigh.

Lee17 said...


I totally get what you mean! I think about that all the time - what was here before my big icky sub division I live in? Probably a field with cattle and grasses and flowers and birds and bugs - and before that? A wild land with wonderful things!

It is so sad that we have to have everything so separate - why can't we try to live with nature instead of completely obliterating it? I get we can't save everything, but can't we work WITH it instead of against it? Does every single tree need to be plowed over? Can't we leave a buffer of land near the streams? Do we need huge expanses of lawn that no one ever uses? Can't these spaces be returned to nature? We need to learn some respect for mother nature and live in harmony with her and stop isolating ourselves from her completely.

mss @ Zanthan Gardens said...

This is a really moving story. I'm glad that as a child you got to experience how wonderful that little wild place was. I can't imagine how horrifying it was to watch it bulldozed away. I worry about all the children who never grow up near a wild place. Maybe that's why so many people don't feel the same urgency to protect and conserve. Having grown up in a suburban wasteland, they don't understand on any level what has been lost or what is still to be lost.

Lancashire rose said...

What a sad story. I too would have been devastated by such an occurrence. I remember where we lived I used to hop over the back wall into the fields behind looking for wild flowers and listening to the larks high above in the sky. Then the development came. Our road, where cows used to walk along from the fields was paved and the put a footpath right up to our front wall so my mother could no longer put plants along there. Then the cars came and the noise all in the name of progress. I still have nostalgia for those days. The dog situation is terrible- we are just bothered by barking dogs. the owners don't know about it because it happens when they are out and.
ESP- I hope the dogs are not at the house where the man chewed me out for accidentally having the back end of my truck over his driveway.