Boston Globe caption on the image above: "Across New England, areas like the Swift River Valley (above, left, in the 1880s and in 2010) in Petersham have seen their forests, once cut down and cleared for farmland, replenished in the 21st century." Photos courtesy Harvard University and David Foster via the Globe.
From the Boston Globe:
A wilderness comeback is underway across New England, one that has happened so incrementally that it’s easy to miss.
But step back and the evidence is overwhelming.
Today, 80 percent of New England is covered by forest or thick woods. That is a far cry from the mere 30 to 40 percent that remained forested in most parts of the region in the mid-1800s, after early waves of settlers got done with their vast logging, farming, and leveling operations.
According to Harvard research, New England is now the most heavily forested region in the United States — a recovery that the great naturalist Henry David Thoreau once thought impossible.
I know this is true. I've seen it with my own eyes. I've been watching it happening ever since I realized that Thoreau's description of Cape Cod didn't match the Cape Cod I knew in one important way.
As for the interior, if the elevated sand-bar in the midst of the ocean can be said to have any interior, it was an exceedingly desolate landscape, with rarely a cultivated or cultivable field in sight. We saw no villages, and seldom a house, for these are generally on the Bay side. It was a succession of shrubby hills and valleys, now wearing an autumnal tint. You would frequently think, from the character of the surface, the dwarfish trees, and the bearberries around, that you were on the top of a mountain. The only wood in Eastham was on the edge of Wellfleet. The pitch-pines were not commonly more than fifteen or eighteen feet high. The larger ones were covered with lichens, — often hung with the long gray Usnea. There is scarcely a white-pine on the forearm of the Cape. Yet in the northwest part of Eastham, near the Camp Ground, we saw, the next summer, some quite rural, and even sylvan retreats, for the Cape, where small rustling groves of oaks and locusts and whispering pines, on perfectly level ground, made a little paradise. The locusts, both transplanted and growing naturally about the houses there, appeared to flourish better than any other tree. There were thin belts of wood in Wellfleet and Truro, a mile or more from the Atlantic, but, for the most part, we could see the horizon through them, or, if extensive, the trees were not large. Both oaks and pines had often the same flat look with the apple-trees. Commonly, the oak woods twenty-five years old were a mere scraggy shrubbery nine or ten feet high, and we could frequently reach to their topmost leaf. Much that is called "woods" was about half as high as this, — only patches of shrub-oak, bayberry, beach-plum, and wild roses, overrun with woodbine. When the roses were in bloom, these patches in the midst of the sand displayed such a profusion of blossoms, mingled with the aroma of the bay berry, that no Italian or other artificial rose-garden could equal them. They were perfectly Elysian, and realized my idea of an oasis in the desert. Huckleberry-bushes were very abundant, and the next summer they bore a remarkable quantity of that kind of gall called Huckleberry-apple, forming quite handsome though monstrous blossoms. But it must be added, that this shrubbery swarmed with wood-ticks, sometimes very troublesome parasites, and which it takes very horny fingers to crack.
The inhabitants of these towns have a great regard for a tree, though their standard for one is necessarily neither large nor high; and when they tell you of the large trees that once grew here, you must think of them, not as absolutely large, but large compared with the present generation. Their "brave old oaks," of which they speak with so much respect, and which they will point out to you as relics of the primitive forest, one hundred or one hundred and fifty, ay, for aught they know, two hundred years old, have a ridiculously dwarfish appearance, which excites a smile in the beholder. The largest and most venerable which they will show you in such a case are, perhaps, not more than twenty or twenty-five feet high. I was especially amused by the Liliputian old oaks in the south part of Truro. To the inexperienced eye, which appreciated their proportions only, they might appear vast as the tree which saved his royal majesty, but measured, they were dwarfed at once almost into lichens which a deer might eat up in a morning. Yet they will tell you that large schooners were once built of timber which grew in Wellfleet. The old houses also are built of the timber of the Cape; but instead of the forests in the midst of which they originally stood, barren heaths, with poverty-grass for heather, now stretch away on every side.
That woods on the edge of Eastham and Wellfleet now spreads south at least as far as Hyannis where it's unfortunately interrupted by Mall Land and Big Box Store-ville. Eastham is a shady town as is Orleans below it and Chatham below that and Harwich to the east of Chatham and Brewster to Chatham's northeast. There are stretches where you can't see the trees for the forests, can't see the ocean for the trees. The "exceedingly desolate" Cape landscape---the sand and scrub land---Thoreau described is mostly confined to areas just in behind the dunes on the ocean side of the Lower Cape.
Be nice if this would start happening in Brazil and China as well as Massachusetts. Anyway, you should read Colin Nickerson's whole story, These woods are lovely, dark, and back, in the Globe.
Meanwhile, a couple of pictures from our Cape Cod trip of 2009.
We were hiking through a beech---beech not beach---woods on land owned by the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster.
Thoreau would have been pleased. And maybe a little amazed.