This Was Woods
Every day more trees are cut down and more buildings are built. We lose green in favor of grey, all in the name of progress. Pretty much the only time it isn’t depressing is when you aren’t thinking about it.
If you look at a satellite map of the urban sprawl in the greater Seattle area, from Olympia in the south to Everett in the North, you will find pockets of green in a sea of grey. Most of these pockets are private land. The rest of them are greenbelts into steep gulches with no trails. The majority of places that you can live in the greater Seattle area are a minimum thirty-minute drive away from an actual trail system. Considering that the Puget Sound is known for its trees, this is a little underwhelming.
In terms of access to the woods, while also having access to the city, we are about as lucky as it gets. We grew up in Mukilteo Washington, within walking distance of a 200-acre trail system called Japanese Gulch. It is easily one of the largest trail systems in the greater Seattle area. It is my (Cameron’s) favorite place in the world and many of the most important events in my life happened in those woods.
When I was younger, I had lots of conversations with people in their sixties and seventies who lived in this area their whole lives. They would talk about how the neighborhood that I lived in used to be a part of the gulch that I love so much today. They would talk about the trails that they used to play on, where my house now stands. This was hard to fully understand as a kid; back then, the world felt like it had always been more or less exactly as I saw it. But as we get older, we watch people with money come into our favorite places and cut down the trees in order to build houses and stores and factories. And when you see it happen, it dawns on you that it was happening before you were even born. You begin to understand the changes our elders watched the world go through.
Only fifty years ago, the city I grew up in was mostly forest. When I really let myself imagine what being here must have looked and felt like, compared to the sprawl of today, I feel tears come to my eyes. But this feeling of sadness for this place is nothing compared to the way I feel when I realize the much bigger picture of what we have lost.
There is a feeling of bliss that we get when we are alone in the woods, hearing the silence in between the trees and feeling the dirt in between our toes. That is a feeling you could have felt just about anywhere in the Puget Sound one hundred and fifty years ago.
These beautiful lands were stolen from their original caretakers and their beauty was traded away in favor of profit and efficiency. Now every cement surface covers up unmarked graves for the beautiful trees and entire ecosystems that used to live there.
But there is hope.
We must remember that this huge change in the environment happened over the course of one hundred and fifty years. If this sort of change can happen over such a short period of time, it can happen again. We know how to plant trees and we know how to grow forests. We know how to depave parking lots and we know how to interweave nature into our urban environments.
Please, in your day to day life, look around you and imagine what this environment might look like with more trees. Imagine how it might feel to walk to work along a dirt path, under the cover of pine needles and green leaves. Imagine how it might feel to look over your city and see buildings pop out of the trees instead of a couple of trees in between the buildings. Imagine spending every day in the woods, without ever leaving the city.
Once people realize how much they have lost, they will want it all back. Our call is to reforest this land. The only thing standing in our way is public opinion.
Take a picture of a place that you often go and post it on Instagram with the hashtag #thiswaswoods. If we can remind people how beautiful all of this used to be—and how beautiful it can be—they too will call for the reforestation of this land to the paradise that it once was.