Posted by: Sam Burke
We almost missed it.
Partially because the gallons of sweat dripping into our eyes made it feel like we were biking underwater (and we kind of wish we had been). We cycled up a mountainside for forty-five minutes to get to the Greater Worcester Land Trust and the heat index that Thursday had already reached 100 degrees by 11:00 am.
And then we almost missed it because Cascading Waters sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood, hidden amongst identical suburban homes.
As we biked, lines of cookie-cut houses blurred together: A house, white picket fence, lawn. Another house, white picket fence, lawn. Small, green path leading into the forest. Another house, white picket fence, lawn.
Wait! We biked back around to the small, green path leading into the forest. A wooden sign read: Cascading Waters, Greater Worcester Land Trust. So we hopped off our bikes and continued up a sloping gravel path. Within minutes the air was ten – and then fifteen – degrees cooler than it had been just moments ago. Enveloped in cool, green shade we reached the top of the hill. The scene we saw there was magnificent:
To our right was a creek bed, with water trickling down it. Beyond that was a bridge overlooking a waterfall. In front of us lay a small house, much like a cottage. Three young kids played on a huge woodpile at its side. Beyond them lay more woods. Behind us, suburbia had disappeared. We could see no lawns, hear no cars, and smell nothing but crushed pine needles and earth beneath our feet.
And to the left of us… lay a huge construction zone. Bulldozers – obnoxiously large, orange beasts – sat stagnant in hot, humid air. Piles of rocks, ripped from the earth, were strewn around them. The scene was jarring and frightening. No plant had escaped being uprooted. Every last inch of topsoil had been carted away months ago (or so we would soon learn). Nothing grew. The machinery looked so menacing in the hot air that we all began to shuffle away from it, our instinct being to hide among the trees.
This is how Colin – the wonderful full-time caretaker of Cascading Waters – and Mary – his kind-hearted coworker – found us. They quickly refilled our water bottles, sprayed us with bug spray, and offered me some more sun tan lotion (which I can always use).
And then we began.
Protected from the heat by a canopy of green and then refreshed by the waters flowing around us, we began the most amazing, most time-consuming and most rewarding project I’ve ever undertaken. Seriously. It’s quite possible I’ve found my life’s calling.
We made tree trunks into wooden signs. The type you find at the beginning of every large hiking trail.
That probably isn’t what you expected to read. But have you ever made a tree trunk into a sign? If not, please do.
We used no nails.
Everything had to be chipped and sawed and measured correctly so that trunks could fit together. And every single thing was done by hand.
So I chipped, sawed, and chalk lined everything (which I’m convinced could be used as a modern art form). We hauled tree trunks to different places using log-carriers (which is a huge metal clip that digs into the trunk so you can lift it , see picture below). I used a sledgehammer for the first time in my life. It was absolutely astounding how much work went into making one sign. Even with two experienced people and four inexperienced college students working for four hours, the project remained unfinished at the end of the afternoon.
The day led me to a conclusion: Trees are not meant to be broken.
Trees are majestic things with minds of their own. They do not bend or saw or chip easily. They do not take into account what angle you have measured, chalk-lined, sawed on, and chipped into. They enjoy resisting or caving in too much. I think it might even have been a bit of a game for them.
Nature – and what grows from it – is such a powerful, sturdy thing. And yet we have contrived so many ways to destroy it. It’s terrifying.
Colin told us that the land at Cascading Water – the very land we had worked on all-day – was originally supposed to look like the construction zone on its left side.
Cascading Waters – home to various forms of wildlife and Colin & his family – was originally slated to be the home of twelve condos. The Greater Worcester Land Trust had a limited budget and could only afford to buy one of three land plots, thus they were not able to save the nature next door. This is why five bulldozers have been tearing trees down and clearing away topsoil for the past year.
The worst part?
It seems unlikely that the condos will ever be built. The company building them is deep in debt, construction has been halted, and no talks of continuing it have been in the works.
Colin said that we should be thankful & saddened by this. Thankful that the GWLT was able to save the land Cascading Waters sits on, the land serves as a vital connector between Cascade Park and Cook Pond for wildlife, and saddened by the loss of the adjoining land, destroyed and abandoned with no further use.
So I encourage everyone:
Just as much as the environmental movement needs environmental doctors, linguists, mathematicians, historians, and community organizers, and all other professions, our land trusts and national parks need doctors, linguists, mathematicians, historians, community organizers who love and support nature.
Who knows, maybe you’ll even find your life’s calling building signs out of tree trunks if you join up.