Trespassing at Muir Hill

“Muir Hill” is the name I chose for the 5-acre wooded parcel among the basalt cliffs at the end of our street, after the same John Muir for whom many woods and parks are named.

It didn’t have a name when I moved here, but it belonged to the neighborhood under construction that would be called “Hazelwood Park.” Hazelwood Lane is about 1/3 mile long, curving up the hill to a dead end, the driveway of a new home. At the other end, it’s actually a continuation of Broad Court, which used to end in a cul-de-sac.

I live on the Broad Court part of the street, the “Southview Estates” neighborhood of the 1980s – split-level homes with bay windows, long driveways and large front yards. On the Broad end, homes need a new roof or some better landscaping, or – like mine – a fresh paint job and a better color. But on the Hazelwood end, each small lot sports a newly constructed home 10 feet from its neighbor, all of them decorated in a palate of woodland browns, with vinyl fences pulling them all together as a family.

Muir Hill is open to the residents of Hazelwood Lane, and they have put “No Trespassing” signs atop the woods facing west and the boulders facing east. It’s a wooded oasis that provides a feeling of wilderness in the middle of the suburban area below, enjoyed by none of them except from the classic Adirondack lounges on their freshly swept porches.

When I moved here, the road had not yet been cut through to create Hazelwood Park. There were no signs indicating to whom it belonged, and since my house was all of two doors past the invisible barrier where Hazelwood and Broad met, I would have ignored them anyway. I brought children to Muir Hill to play and hike and have adventures. I brought my dog to run wild. I brought a hammock to hang between two pines I named Sybil and Ferrel, after my grandmothers. Before the “No Trespassing” signs, coyotes howled in the evening.

Sitting atop a rock 60-70 feet above the street, I see the old man sitting on his porch where the road turns up the hill. You – I say to him in my head – you do nothing with this patch of glory but put boundaries around it and stifle the life that people exchange with the trees. You – I see you watching my every move, wondering if I should be here. You have lost the point of these woods. You scowl at children and scorn their wishes to build a fort in the woods. “Keep it natural,” you say, as if there is something unnatural about kids collecting broken branches off dead trees to form lean-tos and boats and other mysteries of the imagination. You – whose yard is adorned with plaster and plastic creatures aside cheap bridges over fake streams – you want it “natural.”  

Let me ask this: Who, really, is the “No Trespassing” sign for?

As the sun lowers on the horizon, I take the pathway over fallen pine needles and pinecones and weave between trees and around boulders and descend to the pavement of Hazelwood Lane. And after passing a few homes, the street becomes Broad Court and the homes age two decades or three in a blink. I will walk up my long driveway, lined with tended flowers, and enter a home that begs for a paint job, and I will ask myself:

Who is trespassing?

Before there was either a Hazelwood Lane or a Broad Court, there were trees and rocks and the river, and there were Natives speaking Salish, whose people later were called Spokans.

You can find out who were the original inhabitants of the land where you live: native-land.ca.

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