Posted by: dougery | May 19, 2011

Second Growth Citizens

I grew up in the sticks. Western New York cornfields and grapevines as far as the eye could see. And where there wasn’t agriculture there was woods and ponds and all that naturey goodness. Then came Syracuse and Chicago. Concrete, steel, glass and exhaust. The snow was the same, more or less, only it turned a sickly halogen orange in the ‘Cuse and just plain blew away on frozen gusts the second city.

I got used to living in the city, used to its rhythms and noises, the constant murmur of traffic and people going about their business at all hours. Nature, such as it is in a big city, is people. Their movements, consumption, waste, their lives. Yeah, there are pigeons and rats, a few sparrows and a cardinal or raccoon or two. That one famous picture of a coyote on the El train. But for the most part the living parts of nature in a big city function as a kind of a weak second-tier weather system. It’s there all the time but you don’t really notice it because it is such a constant presence.

Now I live in the uber-sticks. If I thought I understood nature as a kid, and maybe I did, the Berkshires are something else entirely. There are acres of forest right outside my back door. And yes its technically second growth but a) almost all of New England forest is second growth and b) New England forests were felled such a long time ago that ‘second growth’ or not, the trees have taken the land back in time to a state that might actually be older than when the first colonists arrived. ‘Cause back then there were Native Americans and their controlled burns which helped some of the older trees reach otherworldly size. Now there are no Native Americans about and for the trees its a free for all. They can’t reach such colossal size but that’s not from lack of trying.

In other words in the 16,000 acre forest right outside my backdoor Nature is king.

There are bears, real live bears. Cranky, lean, hungry post-hibernation bears who come down and snap bird feeders in two for a quick snack. There are coyotes and foxes. There is something called a fisher-cat. Lynxes and weasels and martins. Every year the documented range of mountain lions (!!) extends southward down the Appalachians out of Canada and Maine. There are moose. There are badgers and woodchucks and more different kinds of mice than there are birds in Chicago.

There are owls that hoot at night and sound like great apes going nuts. Yesterday my wife pointed out a rose-breasted grosbeak in our lilac tree. A beautiful bird I’ve only seen once before. Turkeys regularly troop across our driveway. There are more different kinds of bird species that frequent our feeder than there were people on our block back in Oldtown.

Nature makes incursions out here. It lets you who is boss. At night, the darkness is incredible. On a still night, the forest is awash in animal cries. On a blustery evening like last night, the sheer number of leaves and trees make a whooshing sound that rivals the sound of waves crashing in a stormy sea.

You can’t leave your window open, especially at night. The light will attract moths and all kinds of flying critters. We put screens in, and in most cases leave the windows shut, but the bugs still find their way in. Spiders and bees and flies, not a terrible amount, after all whatever we have in our home pales in comparison to what they can find outside, but the curious still come in anyways.

A month back I was clearing brush in a thermal shirt and jeans. The next day I had a welt on my side the size of a golfball, an angry red bite or sting that lasted for a week and visited purple and yellow before fading away. Last night I took out the recycling and either a wasp was lurking in our recycle bin (probably attracted to the leftover sugary soda in a  can or two) or a spider was roaming on the wood storage unit in the garage (which features heavy doors to keep the scavengers away from the trash) because just a few minutes later I noticed an irritation on my wrist. By the time I went to sleep a silver-dollar sized red raised ring dominated the underside of my forearm. There is a sting or bite mark in the center. I’m thinking a bee since it hurts (and itches) as I write this the morning after.

Unlike the city, we’re the intruders here. We’re the rats and pigeons and sparrows. And we may cluster in small groups admiring the view and imperialistically take whatever we want, but sooner or later Nature turns around with its own version of a can of RAID and hits us with a dose of its reality.

Reading: Blake Butler’s There is No Year



  1. You haveta get your bug bites checked out, man. That shit can get way out of control if you just leave it.

  2. Meh. I’ll have buried my amputated left hand in the cold, cold ground long before I schedule a doctor’s apt.

    seriously, I briefly entertained including a pic of my forearm but thought better of it when I posted this around lunchtime.

  3. This is beautiful, man! So, so many stunning lines. I love “we’re the intruders here. We’re the rats and pigeons and sparrows. And we may cluster in small groups admiring the view and imperialistically take whatever we want, but sooner or later Nature turns around with its own version of a can of RAID and hits us with a dose of its reality.” And I’m glad you got to see that bird.

  4. Glad you liked it, dude.

  5. I want to ride a bear when we’re there. MAKE THIS HAPPEN FOR ME!

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