We moved into our house on the first weekend of January, 1980. One reason we chose it was that it reminded us of Pennsylvania, where we did graduate work. (The other reason? It was the only house we afford because the seller gave us great terms.) The street was tree-lined and there was a wood across the street, five to ten acres of undeveloped land along the Provo river. There were enough trees that on a summer walk, I could feel a drop of several degrees as I turned the corner into the shade of our cul-de-sac. It was cool, quiet, and felt rural, though we live less than two miles from BYU’s campus. We occasionally saw an eagle resting in our wood. We often saw rabbits (many of them planted by one of our neighbors who loved rabbits, but not after they were bunnies). There were snakes and ponds and beaver and muskrat. Occasionally deer would show up, having found their way up river from the lake and then, like a fly in a bottle, being unable to figure out how to get back down river.
Our children played in that wood. They made forts and fought villains. They did nature searches. Sometimes they just mused. Calling them home required no more than a loud whistleâ€”the rule was that they couldn’t go so far that they couldn’t hear my whistleâ€”so the wood acted as a large, inviting, and relatively safe play yard.
A few years ago, the owner of the property died. He was a gruff old man whose response to telephone inquiries about buying the property was “Did you see a ‘for sale’ sign on it?” after which he hung up. I don’t know why he wouldn’t sell. I’ve heard from neighbors that it was because this had been his family’s farm and he didn’t want to see all of it developed. Since the rest of the original farm (near Fort Utah and at the point where the first conflict of Indians and pioneers in Utah Valley occurred) was developed long ago, that didn’t seem like a good reason. I suspect the story about his farm was our gossipy invention, but it was the only reason we had, so we repeated it.
After the owner died, his daughters decided to develop and sell the property. The developer divided it into five lots along the street and made most of the acreage common property for the buyers. I don’t know whether that decision was dictated by creative insight or federal wet lands regulations, but it was a good idea, for it left most of the wood intact even if now inaccessible. Some people in the ward still feel all right about traipsing through the yards of the new homes to get to the wood behind them.
Everyone on the street was startled by the subdivision. It wasn’t that we expected no change. We had rumored amongst ourselves for years over what would happen to it, and “large condominium complex” was our worst fear. But expecting the development wasn’t the same as seeing it. Seeing it made us feel that we had been robbed. It took several years for the lots to sell, but once they did, houses went up immediately. The houses were big and expensive, and though the developer insisted on keeping as many trees as possible, their building required cutting down most of the trees that had formerly shaded the street, pushing the tree line eighty feet or so away from the road and toward the river. The new houses took away “our” wood and the character of our street.
It would have been easy to be put out by the change. The problem was that the people who moved into the new houses were a nice addition to our ward, and going from two or three teenagers whom we never saw to eight or ten elementary school children riding their bikes back and forth brought life to the street, life that we hadn’t seen in a long time. We were torn between disliking the new additionsâ€”carping about the architecture, the size of the homes, their cutting of treesâ€”and liking the people who lived in them.
For Janice and me our carping and mixed feelings were resolved completely when one of our sons bought the fourth house. Grandkids knock on the door for a visit or to practice the piano. We try not to be busybody parents and in-laws (with how much success only my son and his family can say), but I love looking up from my desk to see our grandchildren on their bikes or in their yard, and I think it is great that I have only to walk across the street to visit with about one-third of my grandchildren. I love hearing them tell about their adventures in the wood. One day Sam, the oldest, brought over a beaver skull he found, though I don’t think he’s seen any of the beaver yet. The muskrats are out in the day more, so he’s more likely to see one of them. Snakes and tadpoles will be easy. The woods are ours again.