Down from its lofty top rising two hundred feet high,
Out of its stalwart trunk and limbs, out of its foot-thick bark,
That chant of the seasons and time, chant not of the past only but the future.
These immortal lines from Song of the Redwood Tree by Walt Whitman seem a fitting way to begin this story of a lost forest. It was written in the 1870s as an ode to their deaths in ever-increasing numbers by the voracious hand of man.
One memory many of us have from over the years was a favorite local or nearby forest we once knew. Maybe one we played in as a child or even walked through and enjoyed as an adult. Perhaps even one just driven by on occasion and admired for its natural beauty alone. In many cases these forests are no longing standing in the breeze, having been cut down for one reason or another.
What brought the idea to mind to write something on those lost woods, and later the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, happened like this: About seven years ago I moved to a sub-division in west-central North Carolina that to my delight had a good-sized forest with meadows behind it.
The land was full of wildlife, like deer, raccoon, turkeys, and reptiles (especially box turtles) and delightful, skittering gray lizards on the trees. I even taught some very young nephews and nieces about nature there at times, what certain tracks belonged to what animals and how to identify plant life; a nearby place to teach and instill the joys of nature.
There was one ancient oak tree in particular that had been spared when the land was used for farming back in the mid-nineteenth century, probably kept as a property marker or something. Anyway, it was magnificent: at least 80 feet tall and very thick. It may well have been two hundred years old. Sometimes the children and I would go to it and place our hands on its venerated bark and make a wish, or the children would say a prayer.
Above is an ancient and sacred oak from southern Georgia kindly contributed by writer friend , Randy Godwin. Randy's lovely wife Beth is standing beside the tree, hope she is visible to you in the picture. Randy is excellent at writing short historical fiction pieces about the Old South in southern Georgia during, and right after, the War Between the States. He should be good as his family roots go way,way back on their property and farm. I encourage any interested reader to watch for a guest story coming soon from this talented gentleman on Once Upon a History.
Everything was deathly quiet as if a death had indeed occurred, which in a way it had. What had happened to cause the cutting down of all the big trees ( including to my great sadness, the ancient oak,) is what has been happening in this county and many other areas for quite a while now.
With the down turned economy, many land owners have been more or less forced to sell off their big, and not so big, trees. I don't blame them but it can be heart-breaking nevertheless to see a beautiful woodland go down. The gentleman who owned this property once told he wanted to keep the forest as it was with the wish of one day having children's rides on Disney-like small trains going along the nature paths. All a forgotten dream now I suppose.
Sure the woods may recover their former majestic nature in time, but that time will be a very long one in coming I'm sad to say.
The only thing I could find that was left, on looking over the destruction, was this one small piece of brick which I placed on one of the cut down tree stumps . All that was left of a family home that had stood the elements in at least part for over 150 years . It probably was mowed over as it stood in the way of the majestic old oak tree and one other nearby that was very nearly as big.
As the intense logging of the southern mountains was occurring in the later 1900s and early parts of the 20th century, the trees in this part were only saved by a bridge being washed out during a flood around 1920. Consequently the logging companies couldn't get their trains up here and this magnificent hardwood grove was spared for future generations to walk amongst and wonder at what was once so much a part of the southern Appalachians. The economic crash of 1929 and subsequent drop in lumber prices further helped protect these giant majesties. Some are so old they are dying and thankfully will be left where they fall. The forest is left as pristine as possible in these regards.
After World War One, Veterans of the Foreign Wars asked the government to set aside an appropriate stand of trees a a memorial to the soldier-poet Joyce Kilmer who was slain in that conflict.
A better place couldn't have been chosen as it was one of the last virgin stand of hardwood trees left in the Appalachians.
And so my friends although we may lose those smaller and privately owned forests near us or in our memories, we at least know that something is permanently protected that we may visit from time to time if fortunate enough to do so. If anyone is interested in more details on the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and directions to it this website is the best the writer found: http://www.main.nc.us/graham/hiking/joycekil.htm