I think the environmentalists may have a point.
In the course of my travels in the last few weeks, to South Central and Southeast Missouri, looking for acreage to purchase, I was exposed to some of the most gorgeous scenery I'd ever taken the time to notice. I slowed down, smelled the flowers, walked around in the woods, saw some deer, and returned to my roots a bit. I'm not a city boy, I guess.
During my visits to the great outdoors, I was rather moved just standing on a hillside in the middle of a forest, listening to ... nothing. The
silence was almost painful, and left my ears ringing. It's amazing just how used to noise one can become. Being able to listen to one's heart beat, hear every tree frog and every cricket in the area, be surprised by a squirrel running up a tree, and smell the rich scent of decaying leaves and moss is an experience to treasure. I think I've grown a little deeper recently, and have my roots a little more firmly planted in reality.
Nature is a wonder to behold, and being out in it is inspirational, both spiritually and mentally, as it gives a man some time to sit and think undisturbed. But, where is it all going?
Subdividing The Land, or The Double-Time March of "Progress".
I spent the early part of my youth in what was essentially farmland. My cousins and I swam in a creek there, ran around in the fields, popped tar
bubbles on the road between my grandmother's house and the creek with our toes, and generally had a good time as children. I wouldn't change that part of my childhood.
I said that that area was farmland. Driving through there a few weeks ago, in search of a place outside the confines of the city, I happened to see a sign advertising acreage for sale by owner. So, I stopped and talked to the man. I was utterly aghast at the price of acreage in the area, and asked him what made the land so expensive.
"Subdivisions comin' in. I can't stand 'em, so I'm sellin' off and gettin' out while the gettin's good. I'd be surrounded in a couple years, so it ain't worth it to try to fight it. The punk kids in the one down the road already ruined my fish-pond. They beat a trail back to it and fished out all my catfish. I had catfish in that pond weighed ten pounds, and now they're all gone. I moved out here in '85 to get away from all that."
Acreage in that valley now goes for $14,000 per acre, and the price is only going up. Why, I wondered, do people have the urge to move out of the city, only to build new neighborhoods where once there were trees? They bring their problems with them, and just end up miserable, but in a new and fantastically expensive house. They escape the city, and build entirely new cities. They don't escape to a simpler way of life, with trees and nature around them. They still live in a world of cars and noise and traffic and crime. There are no creeks, no fields, no quiet places, no places where there isn't too much light at night to simply look up and see the stars.
Granted, the crime and such isn't nearly as bad as the city, but that may well be a topic for another discussion.
The march seems to take increasingly large steps, too. Where twenty years ago an hour commute was unthinkable, it is commonplace now, and nobody seems to gripe. I know the population hasn't increased that drastically. So, what gives?
If a tree fell in the woods...
Looking to escape to a place where I don't have to lock my doors at night, and can safely leave my keys in my truck overnight as it sits in my driveway, I began looking at substantial acreage half a state away from the city where I live. Driving around on curvy country roads gave me a smile, as this is just what I remembered as a kid. Also, my friend trhurler is always rambling on and on incessantly about wanting a car that handles like a Ferrari, but for the price of a Yugo, so I thought about him as I whipped my four-wheel-drive 3/4 ton pickup truck around a tight turn at 70 miles per hour.
On Saturday, I looked at a 200 acre tract, which had a bunch more acreage surrounding which belongs to the same person, which will be for sale when she is finished timbering. This land looks to have been clearcut in the last sixty
years or so, as hardly any trees are more than about eighteen inches in diameter. This land owner is timbering very responsibly. Nothing under about fourteen inches is being cut, and even that only very sparingly. She is leaving the best trees to continue to grow. Truly a first class harvesting operation. Very commendable. This is the first class of land management I want to point out. A private land owner who is responsible, taking only what
she thinks is right to take, leaving the best (and, indeed, the vast majority,) to grow. I think I will contact her today if for no other reason than to thank her for doing things the way she is doing them. This land is going for $500 per acre, and is well worth every red cent. It is gorgeous.
In another instance, a couple weeks ago, I had called a number in a local ad paper about a huge tract of land for sale. I got directions, and obtained permission to have a look around. All lights were green, so I set out for the hills.
Upon finding the acreage I had agreed to look at, I dropped the truck into low range, and began exploring. The land had been recently timbered, so there were log roads that led to most of it. Up and down, over hills and through valleys, bumping around over ruts, gunning the engine through mud puddles a hundred feet long and spraying muddy water from Hell to breakfast, I proceeded. Old country music blaring, a high school buddy by my side, and a twelve pack - a truly caucasian experience.
That 858-acre tract was timbered fairly extensively, but not so as to lose the character of the land. In twenty years when I retire, the timber would have grown up to be sufficiently forest-like again. There were scenic vistas, where you could see the countryside for miles around. There were quiet little nooks and crannies where you could swear even the deer wouldn't have found them yet. Pastures that would have been good for the little menagerie I want to keep, and good enough soil to raise a good garden. There was enough leavings in piles
from the timbering that you'd never have to worry about firewood for heating your home - ever. There were trees that, should I be so inclined, I could cut for myself when I retire and turn them into cabinets and whatnot for my home.
That land had everything I wanted in a piece of land, save live water (the aforementioned pasture was actually the bottom land for a wet weather creek that looked like it could get pretty sizeable.) I could be a good, responsible steward, and look after it well, writing up a trust such that, when I die and pass it along to my descendents, the place would be responsibly managed and kept forested. I learned this weekend that the owner has just gotten a deposit on the land from another buyer. 858 acres at $295 per acre - a marginal price for land as extensively timbered as that land was, but not wholly unreasonable.
This land owner manages his land in what I would consider the second class of land management. Extensively forested, but not so as to be ruinous. Twenty years of growth would see this land healed, with the proper stewardship.
On the same weekend that I looked at the 200 acres I mentioned earlier, I looked at a 616 acre plot. I wanted to puke. The land had been raped. There were only a few twigs left standing. Pine, hardwoods of various species, all gone. Anything above about three inches in diameter was mowed down like so much grass. It nearly tore me in two to see gullies in the hillsides where runoff from the rain carved out the soil because there was nothing left to keep it in place nor to buffer the effects of the rainfall.
I was so angry when I left that land I wanted to literally strangle the life from the owner with my bare hands, and would gladly and gleefully have done so if he were there before me. The realtor wants $400 per acre for this land - a ludicrous price for a piece of land so devastated. I may call her and offer $150 per acre, and work my tail off planting trees there for the next few years to try to return that ground to its natural state. This land owner falls into the third category I have devised. He is guilty of rape and murder.
In all these cases, the land owners bought the land for the express purpose of timbering, and then selling the land when they were done.
What to do?
I'm not an "environmentalist". I think that the vast majority of these people are uninformed dolts who parrot whatever crap they're spoonfed, just because they think it makes them sound more "compassionate." The things they advocate
are rarely compassionate or humane, and always seem to be of the "steal money from some people to point a big gun at others to make them do what we say" sort. They are interested in their next government grant, and routinely mischaracterize facts and opinions by ostensibly reputable scientists to support their quasi-socialist, Luddite political agendas. I've not yet heard much sense from self-proclaimed environmentalists. I would love to hear some.
I'm more in the camp of "conservationist". People can be taught to be responsible with the land they steward - even improving upon what's there by clearing out undergrowth and making for a healthier forest in the long run. The vast majority of people in this camp are, unsurprisingly, hunters with a libertarian bent. At least, those random land owners who practice responsible stewardship with whom I've spoken. They may not identify themselves as such, but when one hears their opinions, they bear the unmistakable mark of native libertarianism. They don't believe in government intervention, instead taking to heart the notion that they are better off doing The Right Thing.
I am a libertarian (note the small 'L'.) I cannot rationalize infringing a land owner's rights to do what he will with his property, so long as he does not interfere with his neighbors doing what they will with theirs. Of course, my base, emotional impulse is to gut and quarter the last land owner I detailed, and take a big bite out of his still-beating heart. The land belongs to them, and they may steward it as they will. I just wish more were sensible enough to be responsible, first-class land owners.
I don't believe there to be a governmental solution to the problem, nor would I approve of one were one proposed. In fact, I would fight tooth and nail against such a proposal. The fight must be fought in the hearts and minds of land owners. But how? What can be done to convince these people that there is more than just raw profit at stake? How can they be taught to be more responsible?
On a personal level, I believe I will be working toward the time where I can buy a large stand of timber, and would like to set up a land trust that
would protect it, providing a comfortable living for my progeny who would live there and steward the land responsibly. Is there any opinion or legal precedent to the knowledge of the K5 audience that might be able to be of some assistance later in my life?