Tumbledown stone wall in Troy. Photo by Dana Wilde

My woods have shapeshifted drastically in the last nearly 30 years. Nature has its way. 

When we first moved here to Troy, there was a clear swath up the steep slope behind the house, down which a minor logging operation had skidded pine trees that were later hewn into logs in the yard to make the house. Jack — who was just 3 when we arrived on scene — and I hauled sleds up the hill and rode them down the swath to topple with bumps and crashes just short of the driveway. 

That swath is long gone now. It’s completely overgrown and crisscrossed by fallen spruces. You’d have to be either a forestry detective or a mnemon like me to know it was ever there. 

Forty feet or so to the right of the swath, you could look down a two-rut path trampled under spruces, oaks, hemlocks and beeches. Just visible was an old Dodge Valiant that had been hauled in and abandoned at some prehistoric moment in the life of the property, maybe 1987 or 1988. Sometime around Y2K, a gang of Bonnie’s students came and hauled the car out thinking they could get it running again. I doubt they did. 

Now firs, sinkholes and layers of dead leaves have long since filled the wheel ruts. There’s barely a trace of a path. 

But in those ancient days you could walk through and past it, under 50-foot spruces, cedars and pines, across soggy woods floor and root-strewn rises, through some younger trees and out to a clear grassy area. If you kept walking through this glade, such as it was, and up-slope, you came to a huge boulder surrounded by bramble. In my walks out there I used to clamber up onto the giant stone and imagine the glacier abandoning it in slow motion eons ago. 


Now, not only can I not clamber up that boulder, I can’t even find it. The glade is simply gone without a trace. The whole tract over there is woods, hemlocks, firs and birches innocently pretending they’ve been standing in that configuration since the glacier. They haven’t. Up the steep hill from the boulder were some big maples to which someone in prehistory, maybe the 1960s or ’70s, had tacked boards for makeshift ladder rungs up to a platform that at the time of my walks was just sound enough to crawl onto. 

I can’t even be sure of which maples they were, now. 

A sense of wonderment goes with the transforming forest. How could something so much the same be so completely different to the eye 25 years later? You feel a sense of loss, but also a sense that this is how renewal works, eon in and eon out. The force that through the green fuse drives the flower is constantly overflowing into its next guise, which is always the same and always different. 

A century before the log house was built, these woods had been cleared and cows grazed the hillside in bright August sunlight. You can see remnants of that long-ago time if you know what to look for. Old apple trees at convenient intervals for the open pasture, now camouflaged among much younger maples, ashes, cedars, birches, black cherries. Running up the hill on the east border, the tumbledown, moldering old stone fence built to curb wandering cows now roughly marks the property line. Long before any of that, when it was woods again, Abenakis no doubt traveled through, murmuring. 

The really curious thing is not the shapeshifting, but the fact you can remember when this wasn’t, and won’t be later. 

The woods don’t come and go, they oscillate. Their cycles are as real and continuous as tides. Time, we know from the physicists, is not a flow forward, it is a dimension. Far from disappearing, all the woods’ moments live in each other. It’s all still there in memory and in fact, the glacier, the boulder, the Abenakis, the wheel-rut track, the skidder swath, Bonnie standing in the doorway warning us not to slam into a tree. 

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at dwilde.naturalist@gmail.com. His book “Winter: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods” is available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month. 

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