The other day I was amused to find my husband walking back and forth in front of our bedroom window without any clothes on.

As we live in a forest and are surrounded by trees, we are not overly concerned about the view into our windows. It’s not that we don’t have neighbors. We do. Our houses up here sit on 1-2 acre plots and back up against Roosevelt National Forest. But the trees between us do create a natural privacy border of sorts. And still, if somebody were looking, they could see us.

On one side of us is a beautiful modern cabin built only a few years ago. The man who built it went to high school with Scott’s mom and sometimes comes over for drinks. There are a lot of trees between us and him.

On the other side of us – the bedroom side – is a rather large home inhabited by a couple which has recently acquired a dog. I point out this seemingly banal detail only because we have received several phone calls from them to inform us that our dog was over there sitting at their back door. Once we got a call from them to let us know that our dog was “making footprints in [their] dirt” and that short of calling the sheriff, they didn’t know what to do.

I’m admittedly curious to see how this new dog of theirs fares.

For the past several years, the man in this couple – I’ll call him Dave – has been actively involved in thinning out the trees surrounding his house. As there are hundreds of trees on his property, this is no small task. In the nine years we’ve live here, we’ve grown accustomed to the loud buzz of his chainsaw as it chews its way through the lodge pole pines between his house and ours.

Scott and I like to joke that he pulls out the chainsaw whenever he and his wife are arguing. Or maybe he is sexually frustrated and can only find relief by hoisting heavy logs. But really, we have no idea why he is so hell-bent on razing his forest to the ground.

When he is finished disassembling the tree into branches and burnable split logs, he stacks them on one of several giant piles surrounding their home. I have heard him say that the reason he is thinning his trees is for fire mitigation purposes – as if a massive fire in the surrounding trees of our properties would stop short because of a few extra feet between house and trees. My father-in-law is a catastrophe adjuster and snickers at this idea. He once saw an adobe house in the middle of the California desert that had caught fire from embers that blew from several miles away. At any rate, the massive dried out woodpiles around his home would most certainly compensate for any gap left between his structure and the forest. Even burning through the wood during the winter, he has at least a 15-year supply of fuel out there. Possibly 20. We are talking about at least a dozen cords of wood, conservatively.

A few weeks ago I dreamt that I woke up to find that he had taken out all of the trees between us and that we could see into each other’s houses as clear as if we lived in a Denver McSuburb. A couple days later I awoke to find that the US Forestry Service was on the forest border thinning out trees at an alarming rate. The dream followed by the reality…it was sort of a Simon Smithson moment.

For several days they were out there raising up a mighty chorus of chainsaws. Every few minutes someone would shout and another tree would come crashing to the ground. I wanted to cry.

Occasionally, I would glance out the bedroom window to spot “Dave” next door staring wistfully toward the forest. I can’t be certain, but I think I spotted a glint of jealousy at the sheer chainsaw power so close, and yet so out of his reach.

Once I looked out to find that they had brought in a prison work crew to help them with the project. I am no genius, but it seemed odd to me that anyone would mix convicts and chainsaws. We made the kids go inside.

As this was happening, I was getting madder and madder at what they were doing to the forest. Our forest. We hike out there all of the time and know those woods well. They have become a part of our lives and daily experience. And now – because of a leftover George W. Bush policy – forests all over the nation that run along private property are being mowed down in the name of fire mitigation.

It sounds good: fire mitigation. But let’s be serious. If we have a forest fire behind our house, there will be no saving it. Our house is built from stone and cedar planks. We have a dried out shake roof from 1967. We have frequent lightning storms accompanied by upwards of 60 mph winds without a drop of moisture to be felt.


Smokey the Bear would definitely not approve of our domicile.


Smokey the Bear would definitely not approve of our domicile.

But even more to the point, the Forestry Service did not clean up after themselves. After glutting themselves on chainsaw grease and sawdust, they left the trees felled on the ground, stripped of their branches, which they then threw into giant 10 ft. piles.

Here is a picture of the piles they left:


Every 20 paces, you will run into another one. They are everywhere within the 200 yard cutting zone, which incidentally is not barren of trees – only thinned. They are giant bonfires waiting to happen. Branches waiting to kick up in one of our infamous windstorms and head straight toward our roof.

When my husband walks naked past the window for the 10th time in a row, he smiles smugly at me and winks. He knows he can’t stop the legacy of Bush and yet another poor policy decision. That glory train has already been set into motion. What he can do is hope that through the trees the neighbors catch a glimpse of his march. And when they see his raw determination, they will agree to put down the chainsaw and give a man some peace.


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ERIKA RAE is the author of Devangelical, a humor memoir about growing up Evangelical (Emergency Press, December, 2012). She is editor-in-chief at Scree Magazine and nonfiction editor at The Nervous Breakdown. Erika earned her MA in Lit­er­a­ture and Lin­guis­tics from the Uni­ver­sity of Hong Kong and to this day can ask where the bath­room is in Can­tonese, although it is likely that she will not under­stand the answer. In her dream world, she fan­cies her­self a kung fu mas­ter clev­erly dis­guised as a gen­tle moun­tain dweller, eagerly antic­i­pat­ing dan­ger at the bot­tom of every latte. When she is not whipping one of her 3 children and denying them bread with their broth, she runs an ISP with her husband from their home in the Colorado Rockies.

55 responses to “Can’t See the Forest for the Bush”

  1. Brin Friesen says:

    The natural question is why the hell aren’t you joining him?

    You write very nicely, Erika. You earn the K.

  2. John says:

    Next time they feel like thinning your forest, I say you mobilize the whole TNB community with some chains and signs. We can name the trees, and scream at the Forest Service people “YOU’RE NOT CUTTING DOWN JOANNA!” as we sit, chained to the bottom. Some of the more adventurous ones can climb into the trees and make semi-permanent residences. “You’re killing my HOME!” It’ll be a great time.
    But really, that is terribly depressing. Mostly because of the sheer lunacy of cutting down the trees for fire safty, and then leaving the refuse to dry out and become even more of a fire hazard. What kind of sense is THAT?

    By the by, you have a beautiful home, and a wonderful, if somewhat depressing story here. Good luck! If they come back and you need a sign-wielding lunatic to scream at some Forestry people, I’ll volunteer! Ha!

    • Erika Rae says:

      A tree named Joanna.


      Yeah, I’m kinda pissed myself. The cut zone starts about 10 ft off the back of our property. Too close for comfort. Not to mention, there goes any wind block we had.

  3. Irene Zion (Lenore's Mom) says:

    Erika Rae,

    I’m sort of stuck on your neighbors unneighborly stating that your dog was “making footprints in [their] dirt.” What? Then they got a dog themselves? This doesn’t make sense.
    It’s also sort of unnerving that they keep complaining and even mentioning the sheriff. (Can you picture his getting a call that a neighbor’s dog is leaving footprints in their dirt? The whole station will be laughing!)
    I’m heartbroken about the trees. I love trees. I can’t think about it. Other people will have to address that.

    • Erika Rae says:

      Thank you, Irene! We live in a frickin’ forest! I’m going to report the deer and the coyotes. “Hi. Boulder County sheriff? I have some deer to report. They’re making footprints in my dirt.” It’s ludicrous.

      She was pissed when she called, too. There was a dangerous tremor to her tone.

  4. Irene Zion (Lenore's Mom) says:

    On another topic, since Dan Choen’s picture is next to the posts, I was thinking that everyone would think that were Victor. Now it looks as though it’s Scott. Do you think so too?

  5. Kimberly says:

    Heh. Based on the title and your first line, this is *so* not what I thought this piece was going to be about.

    But I was delighted (hm. not sure that’s the right word) to read it nonetheless. Wanton disregard for nature makes me so sad.

    For the record… I agree with Brin. Give your neighbors one hell of a show! Naked protests! Huzzah!

  6. Irene Zion (Lenore's Mom) says:

    Yeah, Kimberly, my mind was taking me in a totally different direction with that title too.

  7. Matt says:

    As was mine.

    This shit just makes me mad. It’s senseless waste, and as pointed out above, is really just creating a larger fire hazard. In fact, I think I’m going to go write a strongly worded letter to the proper Federal authorities.


    • Erika Rae says:

      It is senseless. I’m sure it sounded great whenever it was debated in congress. Fire mitigation. Protect adjacent property owners, etc. It just…isn’t going to work. And now, well, I’ve said my bit. I suppose that letter from me would look a bit like, “Dear US Forestry Service: Thank you so much for lining my property with bonfire fuel. Excellent thinking.”

  8. john says:

    Go get ’em, Matt! A profanity laced rant against sheer idiocy is always a welcome addition to any day.

  9. Hi Erika,

    I was also assuming your piece was more going to be about Kimberly’s documentary – alas – at least i’m in good company.

    I’m so sorry about your forest – that sucks. The Lorax would not approve!

    I’m all for the naked walk bys unless it makes them cut even more trees – maybe they like naked walk bys – oh, you never know.

  10. Astonishing logic at work there. Maybe the Forestry Service will get rid of the felled trees – by burning them. Keep an eye out for a gang of convicts equipped with cans of petrol and matches.

  11. Erika Rae says:

    Funny you should mention that – I’ve sort of been bracing myself to look out my window one of these days to find the forest all ablaze with a “controlled burn.”

    Convicts with chainsaws. What the hell?

  12. jmblaine says:

    in the war with humanity
    the trees
    shall have the last laugh

    I love trees.

    Rage on friend.

  13. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Lovely piece, Erica.

    Chainsaws! Argh! After the last hurricane here, those horrid things roared nonstop for months. In some cases for good reason, considering people had giant trees in their houses. I could live with that.

    But then came the “preventive” action. More neighbors than I care to count cleared a few, sometimes all, of their mature trees just in case. It was emotionally painful to watch the canopy recede further, out of fear.

    One of our old trees was damaged pretty badly in the storm. I dreaded that it might have to be cut down. My trusted tree guy showed up, looked up into its twisted branches, and said, “If it were mine, I’d keep it.” I look at this tree every single day and thank George.

    • Erika Rae says:

      People have been crazy for removing the trees here what with the fire mitigation and beetle kill issues. It seems way over the top to me. For one thing, they were removing trees for fire mitigation during the time of year when the beetles fly and are attracted to fresh cut! They were also removing trees with complete disregard for whether the trees they were taking out were more or less resistant to the beetles. The ponderosas, for example, are far more resistant (not to mention prettier) than the lodge poles – and here they are taking them out just as quickly. Ridiculous!

  14. Ah, Erika:

    I just love it when you write about nudity, chainsaws, and fires.

    Dare I say, it turns me on.

    Bucketfuls of love and Bruce Lee-whoopass your way.

  15. Megan DiLullo says:

    Yeah, I thought this was going to involve some man-scaping tragedy and deeper life lessons.

    I don’t like your neighbors. I’m coming over with my flippers, a pogo stick and some sort of Big-Foot contraption. I’m going to run around their house and leave weird tacks all over their dirt.

    I think you should video tape it.

    On a separate note- Viva La Trees!

  16. Lenore says:

    getting pissed because there are dog footprints in your dirt is a really bizarre thing to me. these people really, really need to relax.

    i wish there were trees all around me. all we have are stupid palms that don’t hide a thing.

    • Erika Rae says:

      Yes. I, too, was confused. I get being upset about a dog taking a poo in one’s yard (which they have also reportedly done) – but footprints in the middle of a forest?

      The trees are nice to have, indeed.

  17. Zara Potts says:

    I am going to be Smoky the Bear for a second.. Please make sure you have a fire plan.
    The Victoria bushfires that happened earlier in the year are still very much in my mind and this sort of thing makes me nervous.
    But naked protests make me smile!
    Take that Dave!

    • Erika Rae says:

      We’ve had terrible fires on our turf as well. It is a terrifying thought, indeed. And to be honest, I don’t completely mind that the govt was trying to protect us by putting a fire break in. The problem is that the fire break is not nearly big enough (if they are actually trying to make it effective) and they just left everything to dry out on the forest floor as kindling. It feels like a half-assed plan.

      Our fire plan? Get the hell outta Dodge. When this place goes – it’s gonna go. 2 roads out by car. I just hope one will remain open.

      The community down the road from us did have a fire knock on its door a few years ago. The fire fighters ( we have a huge community of these fine people up here) did an amazing job and kept structure damage minimal. A few of the mountaintops we see every day on that drive are still barren and charred from that fire. It’s a constant reminder.

  18. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Hang on! I haven’t even finished reading yet, but I’ve got as far as to understand that this tit is in Colorado taking his chainsaw to healthy lodgepole pines? I’m about to leave the house and find a chainsaw I can take to his arse. OK. OK. Back to reading…

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      Man, if there were any justice in the universe there would be a localized, Flash Gordon-style hot hailstorm only over this c*nt’s house. Or better yet, only over his head.

      If you guys need nekkid protest assistance, you let us know.

      • Erika Rae says:

        Uche. I think the fine folks at TNB would pay good money to watch a video of you pacing back and forth nekkid as a jaybird on our property border. Wear that scarf you’ve got on in your gravatar pic, though. It will add character. Tomorrow noon, then?

  19. Prisoners and chainsaws? Jesus…

  20. Are these the trees that smell like any one of the three flavors in neapolitan ice cream?! Seven years ago you taught me to sidle up to trees and take a big sniff. I still do it today. You’ve changed how I interact with woody perennials. Shame on them!

    • Erika Rae says:

      Yes! Strawberry, chocolate or vanilla, baby. Mmmm…chocolate. But I digress. Most of the trees they were cutting were lodge poles – pretty plain. It’s the ponderosas that smell like a delicious dessert. I’m a little proud to say that I did save one ponderosa under consideration. Well…sorta. They might have been about to remove its death sentence voluntarily. But I’m glad. I was about to climb high into the branches and stage a protest the likes of which you have never before heard. I was going to call it the “Get back or I will eat this tree” protest.

      I think I’m a little drunk.

  21. Richard Cox says:

    George W. Bush is Satan in a suit, but isn’t there some kind of logic regarding how man has prevented fires for generations and now the forests are too thick and more likely to burn because the thinning from natural fires doesn’t occur?

    • Erika Rae says:

      Yes. On a case by case basis. In our case, no. We actually already have a fire break about 1/4 mile in. And besides, THEY LEFT THE TREES AND BRANCHES ON THE GROUND. Trying to see logic. I see no logic. Go Bush. [queue kazoo music]

      • Richard Cox says:

        Well, from what I understand the entire Western U.S. suffers from this overthick forest problem, which will just lead to worse fires in the future. Of course that doesn’t excuse anyone from leaving trees and branches on the ground.

        Either way, since you’re drunk it’s probably pointless to debate logic at this point. Right? 😛

        • Erika Rae says:

          Ha! (I might have been joking about the drunk part.)

          You’re so right about the need to thin trees in general. It’s a real problem. We’ve prevented the natural fires for so long, it’s out of control. My point is not that the forests don’t need thinning. I actually agree with a lot of these efforts. What I don’t like is what appears to be a lack of any real planning. Here is my bullet point list:

          1) No distinction btwn trees which are heartier, more fire resistant, more beetle resistant and those which are not. In a thinning effort (as opposed to completely clearing a space) some distinction ought to be made. They took out perfectly healthy trees of this former description, while in some cases leaving the old, scraggly trees standing.

          2)They left the trunks and slash on the ground in the PEAK of the fire season up here. Late fall. Its been on the ground for a month and a half now. We do have snow now but this is a recent development. As an adjacent property owner, I have heard of no plans to remove said slash aside from inviting the public to pay per cord to remove wood themselves. As of today, I have seen no members of the public who have been willing to pay to remove their own wood.

          3) This particular policy was developed in the face of heavy lobbying from the logging industry. The only reason the loggers aren’t picking up the wood that was cut here is that they don’t want it (it’s not up to par for them in this region). The problem with loggers helping to shape this plan, though, is that it was developed partially to help *them* without a deeper look into the needs of individual communities.

          4) I pointed this out above, but I think it merits repeating: we already have a fire break about a quarter of a mile behind the house. This was put in after a forest fire about 20 years ago up here. The trees that burned are still there, too. Both of these factors together make this area far more fire resistant for another fire. It’s already burned and we already have a fire break. I firmly believe that had this been evaluated, the powers that be would have determined cutting so near the houses is redundant. This policy was a blanket policy to be carried out for all adjacent property owners in the US, without regard for any other factors.

          5) Beetles. Cut trees attract beetles. If these trees are not disposed of properly and in good time, they WILL attract beetles when the warm weather returns. (We’ve had horrible problems with beetles on the western slope already.) We have so far had a mild beetle problem here – but with the amount of fresh sap, we may very likely face what some of the areas in Summit County have seen – devastation of the forests. Not only will beetles kill of most of the remaining trees, but – you guessed it – those dead trees will be an enormous fire hazard. Much worse than had they left this segment of the forest alone.

          All in all, this policy *sounds* great. It sounds like something we need. The problem is that the practicality of the situation does not meet the theory. It’s an application of a policy to every forest, regardless of individual circumstances.

  22. Re: chainsaws and frustration–

    Very few things, I think, quite relieve tension or pent-up any-sort-of-energy besides taking a hatchet to lumber. Doesn’t matter the how or why: just breaking anyshit is fantastic. Several years ago, my father decided to dissemble our backyard deck, and by “dissemble” I mean he handed me a three-pound sledge, pointed at the deck, and said “Bring ‘er down.”

    Took me a solid several hours, and I’d wager the only time I’ve spent several hours better, I’ve been in a bed.

    Also, having left Denver this time last year, I know from those McSuburbs.

    • Erika Rae says:

      Ah yes, the McSuburbs. I’ve done my time there, too. ( :

      I took out a wall once with a sledge hammer. Hard work! Not sure I have such fond memories as you. Hahaha.

  23. Living in the city with a newborn eighteen years ago and I cherished the view out my front windows of a lacy locust tree, since I spent so many of my hours with said newborn in my arms as I wore a path back and forth in front of those windows… then came the day when a crew (swat team) from the city showed up and began an arbitrary trimming process that left the tree looking like a bad shag haircut from the seventies. I ran out the front door and down the steps with my baby in my arms screaming at them to stop. Behold the power of a new mama that is sleep deprived. I have never seen men deactivate their chain saws so quickly in my life…. of course my hair hadn’t been washed in a week and I am pretty sure the t-shirt I was wearing (my husband’s) was stained with (among other things) puddles of breast milk when my rage activated the pumps. I think your husband may be onto something!

  24. josie says:

    I grew up in logging country. And even tho cutting down trees was their business there wasn’t a person in the whole valley that would destroy the green belt between them and their neighbors. That green screen is what allowed communes of people dancing naked under the moon to peacefully live next to preachers. I’d be for talking with the neighbors before it’s too late.

  25. Erika Rae says:

    I like that image, Josie. Up here that privacy screen is what makes good neighbors, too.

  26. Phat B says:

    They’re trimming the brush on the hillside behind my place in Southern California right now. Our part of the world is on fire all the time. We’re more of a desert, so they use these goddamn industrial gas-powered trimmers at 7am on the brush. If these guys wake me up one more time, I’m giving them a show from my window. Fruit bowl against the glass ought to do it, no?

  27. Marni Grossman says:

    Erika- you have the better revenge, I think: airing their foibles in a public forum.

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