Nature of Things | Pick up sticks

Spring is upon us and I know I must go headlong into it. “That’s the thing about gardening,” notes Maggie O’Farrell, “there’s always something to do, you’re only ever just catching up with yourself.” First, I had everything to clean up from winter winds. In other places people worry about break-ins. On island it’s the outdoors that gets ravaged.

I call it picking up sticks, and it’s a chore I actually enjoy. You might say I have more in common with George W. Bush today than I ever did during his presidency. Surely you remember him going off to clear brush on his horseless ranch in Central Texas. It was how he unwound, they said. Well, the same might be true with me although I’m not the president of anything, nor am I starting any wars.

I find it interesting how many U.S. presidents were brush clearers. According to presidential scholar Tim Blessing of Alvernia University in Reading, PA: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan. But perhaps none as tenacious as George W. Bush in the canyons, rocky hillsides, and pastures of his ranch outside Crawford, Texas. “Local agronomists say brush control has been a part of rural Texas since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930’s.” (Down on the Ranch, President Wages War on the Underbrush, Lisa Rein 12/2005 Washington Post)

Unlike Bush, I am not whacking down stands of trees, making ear-splitting noise with chain saws, or burning piles. On my little wooded lot by the bay on San Juan Island, I simply put on gloves and boots and pick up Douglas Fir, Cedar and pine sticks, branches and boughs. “Calling cards” from the winds, I call them.

One thing leads to another, and I think about all the recently felled trees on Roche Harbor Road. Fallen branches, fallen trees, this is where the mind wanders when everything is falling down. While we understand OPALCO’s intent in trying to prevent a Maui-like wildfire along high-voltage power lines—those winter winds again—it is distressing to see so many trees downed. Aesthetically it’s unacceptable. On every trip to town and back I pondered, what can be done, what can we do? And then I got it: bicycle paths!

Bicycle paths running within the powerline easement, crossing creeks, pastures, and a vineyard. Hopping over ravines, and alongside lakes. Climbing hills, and sometimes disappearing into woods. The tricky part is how often the power lines leap across Roche Harbor Road from side to side. How will cyclists do it? But I’ll leave that to others, and just say I can see now it in my mind’s eye. Now on every trip to town and back on Roche Harbor Road I find myself mentally riding the bicycle path off the road. It’s attractive in that it follows the contours of the land—mountain bikes, anyone?— and far more fun.

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, if you will.