I grew up in a relatively normal American middle-middle class neighborhood, a street called “Ferngrove”, which actually had ferns in its generally well-manicured yards.
The developers of the neighborhood also left as many 80-year-old Douglas Fir trees as they could leave, when the houses were built. So it was also a grove. The neighboring streets had names with equal integrity: “Woodridge”, “Pinecreek”, “Knollcrest”.
To the west of the neighborhood, about 200 feet from my house, the forest thickened and the land there was undeveloped. The neighborhood was surrounded by those stands of firs.
There were trails worn through the trees where I and kids like me would ride our bikes, completely unsupervised. We could bike as far away as two miles through the largest of those thickened forest areas. There were some areas for stunt-BMX biking and a couple of tree houses. The boys of the neighborhood would retreat to those places to do what 80′s preteen boys always did when they have no supervision. It was safe to have no supervision. It was our forest and playground. It was the boxed-in forest ridge.
In front of my house, the view to the west from the street at evening put the sun through the firs. When there was no rain or fog, the needles of the fir tress scattered the sunlight. We never saw the full sunrise or sunset from our house. In autumn and spring, the wind blew the trees slowly back and forth. It enlivened the light, and cast the street in fractal moving shadow, and I was protected from the abrupt beginning or final end of any day by my guardian firs.
I lived in that box of scattered living light, biking and breathing through the firs. I amused myself with minor mischiefs and as many science fiction books as I could find. I grew up on the forest ridge, never realizing that’s what it was, or how small it was, as ignorant of the mortality of those constant evergreens as I was of my own.
I would watch the sunset through those trees. After Mount St. Helens began erupting, on the days when the winds were from the North, the colors were breathtaking. I watched the light without context or wisdom, mesmerized in my ignorance.
I have that memory today. There’s no way to reproduce it; the ungroomed trails and wild lands have been cut down since 1990, replaced with a thousand manicured homes, a park, and far fewer and much younger trees. The sunset shadow play is muted. The mountain is quiet again.
My children will never see it. They’ve never ridden bikes on trails through two-mile thickets of firs. I can’t give them what my favorite city has taken away.
I retain my years there in thought, and the sunsets through the trees on the forest ridge, grateful to have grown under the watch of silent guardians, glad to have this place of safety in my youth.