The Three Waves of Mountain Destruction
“History never really says goodbye.
History says, ‘See you later.’”
— Eduardo Galeano, poet and writer
Often enough, but not every day, a time comes to stand up for something other than a second cup of coffee, one more helping of dessert: A time to step outside ourselves and work in common for something greater than our individual appetites. This is one of those times.
It’s hard, especially when mega-corporations promise to pay down your property taxes. It’s hard when they offer to give you, a registered voter, $900 a year or more into the future if the vote is in favor of a project. It’s hard to say no.
Perhaps that’s why it is so much easier to say yes, or do nothing to oppose the plundering, as the sad legacy of the Green Mountains demonstrates. Since early colonial times, two historic waves of human destruction have battered the mountains, each crest followed by a brief trough of recovery. With a new swell rising — mountaintop industrial wind — Vermonters may have a last, best opportunity to prevent a third wave of devastation.
Vermont’s early settlers must have viewed the resources of the Green Mountains as inexhaustible. Having trekked north with land hunger in their bellies, they discovered what historian Lewis Stilwell called a “whole aristocracy of hardwoods” — oak, maple, beech, birch and ash — to be vanquished by axe and by fire.
Word spread down country: A hard man could hack a living out of the forests of Vermont. People came, they survived, and their numbers grew. In 1781, an estimated 30,000 lived in the Republic of Vermont. By 1791, 85,000, by 1800, 154,000; and by 1810, 217,000. These were “the Good Years,” when the land seemed lush and limitless, bountiful and boundless. Land values rose. Money was made. And, beyond the next hill, there was always more.