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Winter/Spring 2020

Clear Cutting

Sallie Hess


Before World War I and the Depression
came to make hard men out of little boys,
the land around my house was farms,
clear-cut, dotted every hundred acres or so
with a white frame house, red tin roof.


The trees came back when the land was lost,
or when the boys were lost,
and there was no one there to work it.


We tend to think that in the 1950s,
after World War II, when the suburbs grew,
these farm boys moving to new ramblers
were all just off the turnip truck from Iowa
by way of the Pacific Theatre,


but that skips a whole generation
that walked away, robbed by the bank,
or were killed in France,
and since they were gone
and not coming back,
the forest grew.


My oldest trees are from the 1920s,
most recent turn of the cycle,
scrub cedars just along the road,
fast-growing poplars, hollies, then oaks,
slow beeches bringing up the rear
only in the past few years.


But now the clear-cutting starts again
to make way for giant houses
so we can parcel even smaller bits—
an acre or two instead of a hundred or two.


And there are a few old-growth beeches left, too,
along the edges of the untouched river,
their smooth muscular trunks carved
with initials and dates: 1900, 1918, 1942.


[Check out Sallie Hess' back porch interview]