Report of the Monitor, Part 1
April 16, 2006
By Brian Richards
This five part “report” on community and life in the forested hills of southern Ohio, first appeared in Ken Warren’s journal House Organ under the title, JUVIAT IN SILVIS HABITARE. First used as a slogan for the Pennsylvania Gazette, 1728-1810 — it means “It’s a joy to live in the woods.” The author has lived and worked here, observing the forest, its drainages, and its changes over the last five decades. The report dates to the spring of 2006, three years after an historic ice storm devastated the woods of Twin Creek and the larger Shawnee State Forest region of Scioto and Adams counties, Ohio.
JUVAT IN SILVIS HABITARE
et in arcadia ego
That life is lived in the head
of a holler beyond which flows
a crick beside which the second person
plural lives with y’uns
When his eldest daughter was a toddler, they had lived in the Berkshires, on a short connecting road between 112 and 143 near the Chesterfield Gorge. Most of the area had returned to forest pocked with marshes caught in the decaying metamorphic bedrock that was never deep. The land that remained under cultivation was divided into potato fields and pasture. Across the road from the house they were sitting were polled Herefords run by the town sheriff, who owned a thousand acres or so, some of which kept cows, though most of what hadn’t become woods a couple of generations earlier was being benignly neglected into that state.
It was his pleasure to skirt the fenced pasture and walk through the ungrazed grasses among shrubs and saplings that were colonizing the slope down to the creek and into the older growth on the other bank. The margin was ripe with ramps, boletes, deer and grouse, their brood and sign. Though his family’s stay was transitory, in preparation for the remove to the other end of Appalachia, he regretted knowing that he would not be there to catalogue the pasture’s transit to forest.
By the time his daughter was older than he had been then and had a toddler of her own, he had built a hermitage on a far ridge in the forest above the river. The woods around him was the peer of the one across the sheriff’s creek, but thirty-odd years later it had progressed into a natural park, the largest branches, always at the top of the trees, shading away undergrowth so passage was only impeded by the greenbrier that choked the ridges under chestnut oak and hickory.
But his practice of cruising the woods was interrupted late one winter when an ice fog of unprecedented cruelty settled in long enough to build a layer of ice on every branch adequate to break most of them, a crashing of tree and limb that went on for days. When the fog dissipated, the park had become a war zone. It took him years to cut paths in all the directions he needed in order to bring in the dead wood for fuel and regain some entrance to the surrounding domain, the area he owned not by civil contract but because he was the only one who walked there, even the occasional morel or squirrel hunter having abandoned the area as unnavigable.
His favorite hike led down into the saddle south of his shack and along the slopes under mature red and white oak and tulip poplar. When he had finally cleared the way into the saddle, he found a ruined world: jack-strewn trunks, their root wads ten feet in the air, all that wood food for grubs, eaten in turn by the birds and squirrels that were prey to fox, coyote, and bobcat. The deer and grouse were cropping the fruits and buds ordinarily beyond their reach. It seemed a consolation prize, but his share in the winnings didn’t become clear until the managers of the state forest that held title to almost all the land around him for miles decided that the state needed the money more than the bugs did the food. It was a defensible position and two years later, after the Book brothers had cut the west side of the water shed—the most heavily damaged area—he was clearly a major winner in the sweepstakes, vouchsafed a laboratory a five-minute walk away wherein he could spend the rest of his days monitoring the forest growth, despite the certainty that his work would end among juvenile trees.
The poet’s seat herein claimed is not the one overlooking the Pioneer Valley above Greenfield, not that kind that looks down on the pismire, but the greater arrogance of parking his ass on a chestnut oak stump a couple of feet in diameter and about as high, dished by a complicated felling cut when the Books cleared the west slope of Glen Run. The stump sits on top of the knob beyond the saddle immediately south of the shack, and from it the view is open to the southeast, inferior ridges knuckling down the east fork of Upper Twin, the unseen reversals along the fingers to its final ninety before the final ridge, away from the blind alley of Dodd’s Hollow and the last low gap, past the home place and out into the flood plain, six miles by crow. Yesterday, seventy degrees and clear at noon plus fifty minutes, standing on the seat to establish actual south at that end of Buckhorn Ridge above the mouth of Lower Twin, the tower behind Garrison a pencil stroke on the horizon through field glasses behind that last hump that turns the creek that penultimate time until the millennial alluvium of the Ohio runs it west to Buckhorn where the Twins let, side by side at last, out into the river.
But the new relay tower above Pond Run was impossible to find even through glasses until midnight under a moon gone gibbous to locate its red wink on the horizon and thus triangulate and establish without doubt that the final gap in view before the tuft of cotton fog marking the river valley is the one that captures Upper Twin. There was a light on Book’s old landing, poachers probably, caching their venison before armed clown season makes the woods unsafe, but it was still uncomfortable to have them disturbing the solitude, a twenty-minute climb in the night.
[To be continued …]