When Martin and I bought our property thirteen years ago, it was so thick with wild blackberry brambles, honeysuckle, poison ivy and Muscatine grape vines, we were unable to step more than a few feet into it from the road. The aerial photo on the county records site wasn’t much help either. Beyond the clogged meadow at the road frontage thousands of pine trees hid any view of the rest of the property. We bought it anyway. At the time I was working as a real estate broker. I knew wooded properties were few and far between.
From the road we could also see mature oaks, hickory, maples, poplar and beech. We sited the house right smack in the middle of the six acres for privacy. When our builder cleared a path for the drive and started building, we started spending weekends clearing the brush and pines. I wasn’t much of a conservationist then. Still, it was low tech clearing with loppers, pruners and hand saws. Our builder didn’t burn debris; he had it hauled away. Using hand tools as our ancestors would have, Martin and I cleared enough to fill two dump trucks!
During the nine months of building and clearing, we made many discoveries. I remember the late March day I walked up the drive to see the white flowers of dozens of dogwoods welcoming spring. As spring advanced we found wildflowers popping up everywhere _ pink lady slipper orchids, crested iris, yellow loosestrife, Solomon’s seal and many more I didn’t recognize. I bought a book on wildflowers of the Southeastern United States. There were ground covers like wild ginger, partridge-berry and coral berry. Summer brought milkweed and butterfly weed. The strange looking ghost pipes made an appearance. Fall brought the orange berries of hearts a burstin’.
With these discoveries the property took on new meaning. I felt like we needed to conserve the wild things. Thus came the decision not to allow any further heavy equipment on the property. No bulldozers or backhoes to remove the onerous pines.
By now we also realized something was wrong with the pines. Clemson University Extension agents helped us identify two types of pines beetles gnawing their way through the woods. They are also Virginia pines, which do not fare so well this far south. Planted decades ago as a relatively quick money crop, now too dense, many are diseased. Our woods were declared as unhealthy. Chainsaws were purchased to make the job of removing them easier, but we still have thousands of them. Because of the pests and disease, they have to be burned. It is an arduous task. It is also a labor of love.
We made paths over the years, clearing out the old logging trails, and can now walk through most of the six acres. There are two fields of rocks across the upper ridge, rocks large enough to sit upon and contemplate the emerging beauty of the woods. Mountain laurel will bloom in May along the back path. June will bring a show of creamy panicles on the sourwood trees as bees work them to produce what some claim is the best honey in the world.
The more we clear the pines, the more the sun finds the earthen floor of the woods, the more the wild things spread to feed some animal. In recent years, we’ve had a bear appear, probably in search of the huckleberries growing wild beneath the trees. The raccoons, opossums, skunks and fox have been here all along. There are plenty of squirrels and chipmunks. An owl hoots all night long in the woods behind the house.
In the landscaped gardens surrounding the house, much to my delight, many of the wild plants have invaded. Wild ferns fill the sunny hillside off the screen porch. Solomon’s seal dots the shaded hillside to the front of the house. Red flowered trillium showed up in the side garden a couple of years ago and continues to spread.
I try to be a good steward of what has been given to me. It is not always easy. But, as I watched the first hummingbird of the season flit through the garden and woods last week, I remind myself this is why the wild things must continue to grow.
Let’s make every day Earth Day!