True Value
by Ed Collins

The questions asked so often that it feels as if I am in an echo chamber each time I hear them anew. What will it cost to protect the region’s natural areas? How much is too much? Which appraisal system is fairest? What would a developer offer versus a park system? Does one take into account the value of the resources belonging to those lands if they could be sold at fair market value? How many board feet of timber? How many tons of gravel? How many bushels of grain per acre could the arable portions produce rented for agricultural purposes?

The numbers and methods become mind numbing especially when one compares the various cost benefit systems available for calculating such indexes.

This week a most unlikely economic guru boiled the whole equation down for me in an understandable and simple manner.

She was 93, with skin like fine doeskin parchment. Her eyesight had failed taking the reading she held so dear as a casualty. At first glance the face appeared wrinkled, but such a simplification would overlook the poetry in each remarkable line, etched there year by year, Da-Vinci-like, by the fine masonry tools of life. Her countenance wore the brightest of smiles, while her mind moved between conversations and people with an alacrity that belied those nine decades.

She had come to see the oak woods; the 175 year old red and white oaks once slated for roadways and home sites in an upscale estate subdivision. Her son had died unexpectedly, before his time. With a depth of understanding the equation was defined for her by not only his absence, but by what he had loved most in life. His passion lay in nature, for animals, for trees, especially big old sprawling oaks. It was her generosity, in the memory of what this son held dear, that saved the woods.

No amount of negotiations moved the price; no downturn in the economy altered the seller’s perspective of the value. The land simply cost more than those interested in preserving the oaks could afford. Simple sum arithmetic; one plus one always equal two, and two is beyond what is available.

Until the day the call came from a realtor friend she asked to help her on this quest; did we know of a woods that might be worthy of being preserved?

We strolled through those woods today, with the first hint of autumn’s crispness hanging on the breeze. Her nimbleness surprising to the arm that sought to steady those steps, until she stopped at a red oak large enough to have been foaled in the morning of the world. The sentinel stood dead center, the bull’s eye of the planned access road for the subdivision. She embraced it, ancient hands on ancient bark and something passed between them that I at 53 am too young to understand.

She smiled. The tree smiled as well.

Later, seated in the car preparing for the return trip, we asked about the other lands she had been instrumental in saving, some in the Smokey Mountains, and some in California. Was the California land expensive?

The answer was plain spoken and elegant. She gestured to the oak and to the dozens that lay beyond garnering sun, awaiting the deep color of autumn and the long sleep of winter beyond it as they had for decades.

“What is expensive?”
Three simple words…
What is expensive when the trees are two centuries old?

What is expensive when the ground is a carpet of spring wildflowers? What is expensive when the soil has lain undisturbed since the last ice melted from the cold glacial landscape 18,000 years ago?

What is expensive indeed?

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April is National Poetry Month and we are celebrating by sharing with you throughout the month some of the poems (and prose) from our own nature themed anthology called NATURAL VOICES: CELEBRATING NATURE THROUGH OPENED EYES. There are 14 authors in the book and one author’s name will be drawn randomly each time we post a poem or prose excerpt from the book until all authors have been represented. Check our news blog regularly for the poem/prose posts.

Read more about National Poetry Month here: https://poets.org/national-poetry-month

We’re celebrating #nationalpoetrymonth, #naturalvoicesanthology

Get your copy of the anthology here: https://www.naturalland.org/merchandise/