We had opposed the construction of yet another golf course in our area, but the developer won. We heard astonishing claims at the township meetings from the developer's "scientific experts": Once the initial disruption phase was finished, a man-made ecosystem would provide an improved habitat for wildlife, and the species would become more diverse and the populations would increase.
I imagined families of black bear outfitted in the latest golf togs looking for serviceberry bushes to munch on and white-tailed deer racing around in golf carts to browsing spots.
I wondered if the development's potential buyers were looking forward to increased numbers of deer, bears, porcupines, and raccoons on manicured lawns and putting greens.
From our own experience with porcupines gnawing on our freshly stained deck and deer flattopping our yews, these species would most definitely show up to sample the new landscaping and buildings. There would be a buffet of materials to feast on, since porcupines' tastes tend to run toward toxic substances.
We learned from the experts that the grasses on golf courses absorb pollutants – and it is easier on the eyes than all those messy hardwood and pine trees, which would be chopped down to make way for the emerald carpets.
Somewhere along the line, deforestation became beautification.
On our property, practically next door to this proposed paradise, we have opted for a less manicured look. There is an abundance of naturally growing oxeye daisies, black-eyed Susans, sweet peas, yarrow, and primrose, as well as spreading juniper for shrubbery. So other than clearing away blackberry brambles for paths, planting a grassy area outside the front door, and cultivating a patch for vegetables, we've left things alone.
The following spring brought the rumble of earth-moving equipment and subsequent high-pitched wrenching sounds as trees were uprooted. The noise went on late into the evening, overcoming the peeper serenade in the wetlands below our house.
That summer we had to close the windows as acrid smoke from the burning of stumps and construction trash drifted over the ridge.
Life continued. We couldn't see the buildings from our place, and we had become resigned to our new unwelcome neighbors just a mile and a half west of us. But we were connected. One day walking on a trail on the east side of our property, we saw a small white sphere in the path. A puffball? An egg? We picked it up. It was a new, expensive, and nearly pristine golf ball. We found several more on other paths.
Even a golfer with a superpowerful swing couldn't send a ball over the ridge, across wetlands, and onto a trail a mile and a half away.
After going through several scenarios – a lost golfer dropping balls to find his way back to the green, a huge windstorm depositing them on our property – we decided it had to be the animals. We knew squirrels, skunks, and other small animals often drag discarded antlers back to their holes. They gnaw on the bony material for nourishment. Perhaps they mistook these white, pitted spheres for something they could apply their teeth to. Then in frustration, they left them on the path.
Or maybe these animals were displaced wildlife that had visited the homeland (i.e., the acres that were now the golf course) and returned with souvenirs.
Soon trout lilies will carpet the trails. Spring beauties, Dutchman's breeches, and wild leeks will make their appearance. And when we hunt for morels as the trilliums bloom, we'll take an extra bag to collect any golf balls we come across – in case we ever decide to take up the game.