It’s been a long time since you beckoned me up that lonely hill 35 years ago to witness the devastation of a forest felled by the axe in the name of progress. But I haven’t forgotten a single detail. It was my first backpacking trip. I was tired and ready to rest but the urgency of your plaintive call pulled me away from camp and up the hill – alone – just me, like I was the only one who could hear you. Night was falling but you led me west, rising steadily to where the sky was fading, pink into blue then purple, up ahead.
“Whip-o-will, whip-o-will, whip-o-will – hurry, hurry follow me; I’ve got something for you to see.”
Every time I paused and thought I should turn back to camp, you called me on until at last I was at the top of the hill. Spread out below me, as far as I could see in the dimming light lay the remnants of an old growth forest – like the one I’d been hiking through all day. It looked like a giant’s game of pick up sticks; lifeless trunks and limbs scattered as far as the eye could see in the valley that seemed to stretch on for miles. It screamed desolation and destruction. At the time I didn’t know what I was seeing but it made me so very sad. Sad and empty and angry even though I didn’t know why – but I knew it was exactly what you were calling me to see.
I’d like to say that I was wise; that I heeded your warning and took action. That from that day forward I was a tireless champion in the struggle to preserve our natural resources, our fragile forests. But you would know that wasn’t true. And for many years I never heard you at all. But I never forgot what you showed me that night.
I suppose at one time, your kind may have lived where I live now, but not anymore. I’m no expert but I think you need more forests than we have here. But lately, especially when I’m at the cabin, and the gentle folds of dusky purple mountains stretch out in the distance, you visit me again. As precise as clock work – you pay your nightly visit when it’s just dark enough for me to search in vain but never see you. Your call is as loud and strong as I remember, louder actually, and sometimes frantic, and sometimes you go on and on for so long I fear you might pass out if you don’t stop and take a breath.
Don’t worry – I won’t forget what you showed me that night so long ago. I hear you still and I promise to do what I can to make sure that one day, should they be so inclined, your grandchildren can speak to mine.
Thank you. Stay strong and live long!
Your Lonely Wanderer