C.W. Gusewell


Nature and neglect overtake a refuge

Nature is powerful and it is patient.

With enough determination and expense, its advances can be slowed, even temporarily halted. But look away for a moment – or worse, for a season – and it will reclaim what it had lost.

The truth of that was never plainer for me than on an outing last month with a friend to the little cabin in a clearing of the Ozark woods – a place that I have loved for 55 years, well over half my life, and is in some ways my heart’s home.

The day was uncommonly sweet for middle August, with the temperature in the mid-70s and white cumulus clouds shouldering up into a sea blue sky.

The first evidence of a problem was at the turn-in from the country road to the cabin drive. A tangle of vines and woody sprouts obscured the chain closure. Only with difficulty could the gate be swung open.

And inside was worse. The cabin itself was almost obscured by a riot of foliage. A wild grapevine had grown to envelop completely a quince shrub at the corner of the porch.

Then it had attached its seeking tendrils to the porch screen itself and spread to make a leafy curtain across the whole front of the structure.

In what had been the yard, volunteer oak and hickory saplings had sprouted. Through all the previous years, there had been no such invaders. And in every direction, from the clearing’s edges, riots of sumac had advanced.

On the cabin’s outside east wall, there’s an electrical socket and a cord with a plug, which, when inserted, activates the water system. But so compacted was the obstructing underbrush that I couldn’t even find the plug.

A narrow lane through the woods gives access to a small but productive fishing pond, and when properly maintained it is quite passable by car. Not so in its present state.

A summer of torrential and almost ceaseless rain in that neighborhood has produced such an explosion of growth that the way has been narrowed by at least a third.

Clawing branches reach out from each side. The lane can still be walked, but to try to drive a car through that shrunken passage would surely disfigure the machine.

It shamed and saddened me to see such evidence of neglect afflicting that small corner of the world I have cared about so deeply and for so long.

As always, of course, there are excuses.

Distance, for one.

The cabin is 104 miles from my city home – a drive of roughly two hours each way. And other obligations compete for those hours.

Age, for another.

Energy and staying power decrease with advancing years. A race down the highway, then a day’s punishing labor, followed by a drive home in darkness, are no longer feasible.

For several years, a good neighbor just across the road and his stalwart son kept the place in order. The yard was mown regularly, any deadfall cut up and removed, the pond lane kept trimmed for easy passage.

Invariably, when I turned in the driveway I was greeted by a scene of satisfying good order.

Then winter came. I went there less often. And, with the deluges of this spring and early summer, nature had its way again. Somehow I’d lost contact with that good man, thinking wrongly that he had moved.

Mercifully, though, he called the other day. He hadn’t moved at all. Only his telephone number had been changed. We’ll meet soon, and we’ll make a plan.

And there’s reason to hope that, turning in the drive on a crisp day this coming autumn, what I see there will please me again as it has through all those years before.