A Cautionary Tale
Once upon a time a young man set out to find his place in the
world. In his wandering he chanced upon a beautiful valley
surrounded by snow capped mountains. Down the length of the
valley, a river fed by the melting snows meandered in a lazy
manner toward the west. Down the hillsides cold mountain
streams splashed over the rocks, and springs fed icy cold
ponds with water so clear you had to look twice to see it.
Tall pines and firs covered the hillsides and aspens formed
groves along the base of the hills. The streams were lined
with stately cottonwood and willow trees and the meadows were
covered with grass and wild flowers. The streams were filled
with trout and the woods teemed with wildlife. What a
wonderful place it was, and the young man built his house
in the midst of it.
By Neil M. Travis, Montana
In the course of time he married and brought his wife to the
valley. They had one son who grew into a fine young man. On
warm summer evenings the father and his son would climb to
the top a tall hill behind the house and look out over the
beautiful valley. The only sounds were the evening song of
the birds, the breeze in the trees, and the sound of running
water. Together they would sit under a big fir tree and watch
the sun slowly disappear in the west.
When his father and mother grew old and died the young man
continued to live in the family home, and soon he brought
his wife to live there, just as his father had done before
him. And just as his father had done before him, he only
farmed a small portion of the valley and the rest was much
the same as it had been when his father had first discovered it.
One day a stranger came up the winding dirt road and stopped
to speak with the young farmer. "This is surely a beautiful
valley," said the stranger. "Do you own all of it?"
"Yes," he replied. "My parents homesteaded this valley,
and it all belongs to me."
"Perhaps," the stranger inquired, "you would sell me a small
piece of land upon which I might build a small cabin. I love
to fish and this stream appears to have many fish."
The young farmer was reluctant to allow anyone to build
in his valley, but the money would provide things for his
growing family that he was unable to provide. "I will sell
you a small piece of land," he replied," but you must only
build a small cabin and it must be built at the far end of
The stranger readily agreed, and soon a small cabin was built
at the far end of the valley close to the banks of the river.
The stranger had many friends and soon they desired to own a
small piece of land in the beautiful valley. The young farmer
was reluctant to sell more land to strangers, but his growing
family was straining his resources and a few more small cabins
could not possibly make any serious changes in the valley. Soon
there were several small cabins dotting the valley. On weekends
and during the summer the valley was buzzing with the weekend
visitors from beyond the valley.
One day a man from the government stopped by the farmers house,
and said that due to the increased population in the valley
that the narrow dirt road would need to be made wider and paved
to meet the needs of the public. It would also be necessary to
make some changes in the road, eliminate some of the curves and
construct some bridges over the river. The farmer was unhappy
about these changes, but his wife and children thought it would
make the trip to town easier and faster. The cabin owners favored
the plan to upgrade the road, and soon a modern two-lane highway
replaced the small winding road that his father had built.
For many years a local logger had cut a few select trees from
the forests that covered much of the land. The few trees he
cut were never noticeable and he found it unnecessary to
create any roads to haul out the few trees he cut.
One day a man from the government came to see the farmer. A
big logging company was interested in logging in the valley,
and the government was considering a timber sale.
"There are many fine trees growing here," said the man,
"but many of them are very old, and it would be a good
idea to cut them before they are past their prime and of
no value. This company has years of experience in logging,
and they will be very careful not to damage the land."
The local logger agreed it would be a good idea to thin
the timber and to remove some of the older trees. The
farmer was dismayed at the thought of more logging, but
it would provide jobs and income for the community. Soon
the logging trucks were rolling up and down the valley
loaded with the tall pines and firs that had previously
covered the mountainsides. The logging roads made ugly
scars on the hillsides and when it rained the once clear
streams ran brown with mud. Before long the only trees
that remained were those that were too small to cut and
when the logging trucks carried away the last of the big
trees the only thing left behind were the scars caused by
their roads and a landscape of stumps. The local sawmill
closed and many people had to move away because they could
no longer make a living.
One day the farmer noticed a man poking around up on the
mountain. He represented a big mining company and it appeared
that there was gold in the mountain. The farmer was informed
that the company had staked a claim on the mineral rights,
and the government had sold them the rights to mine the gold.
His company would soon start an exploratory mine, and if
sufficient gold were found there they would open a mine. They
assured the farmer they would be very careful, and they would
restore the land when they had extracted the gold.
Soon the mining company had located a large amount of gold and
slowly they began to claw away at the mountain. The mine brought
many new people to the valley and the farmer sold them land for
houses. His two sons went to work for the mining company driving
the big trucks that were carrying the mountain away piece by piece.
When the gold was exhausted the mining company closed and left
the valley. The miners left an ugly scar that bled and oozed
deadly chemicals into the streams killing the few remaining fish.
All those who had enjoyed the money from the mine, including the
farmer's sons, had to move on to find jobs. No one came to restore
the land the miners had destroyed or the denuded hills left by the
loggers. Silt poured down the hills and toxic chemicals leached
from the mines until the once beautiful streams were choked with
silt and poisoned from mining waste.
The city folks went in search of other beautiful places, abandoning
the cabins and summer retreats. Many of the other homes were left
empty as the residents moved away to find employment. Weeds choked
the once fertile fields and the land was desolate.
One evening the farmer walked to the top of the hill where he
and his father had often gone to watch the sun set. The loggers
had cut the big fir tree and only its stump remained. Looking out
over the valley he could see the deserted homes, the denuded
hillsides, and the ruined streams. There were no singing birds
and no trees for the wind to whisper through. The air no longer
smelled of pine and fir and even the sound of the creeks was
hushed and subdued. The sun slowly set in the west through a
man-made haze and the farmer sat on the stump of the old fir
tree and wept. ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona
From A Journal Archives