Trail Inspectors & Local Curmudgeons by Kerry Ashkenaze, April 2017

Separating my home from the immense canyon that looms below is a broad, hilly trail that winds for several miles and opens up to a stunning view of the Pacific. Many of the most exciting, action-packed, and adventurous moments of my life have occurred on its rocky paths: panting in exhaustion while running with my mother, trying desperately to keep up with her; zealously splashing in mud puddles after torrential (albeit rare) storms with my brother; exploring its niches and side paths with my spastic golden retriever; and, more so than ever before, walking solitarily along its edges in late evenings, admiring the magnificent sunsets and reflecting on the day’s occurrences. 

So, naturally, my family was pretty devastated when, a few years ago, we received a formal notice in the mail from the City Council informing us in the curtest of fashions that they would shortly be cutting down many of the trees lining our trail’s periphery: people had complained about the “obstruction of their views”. The city officials put it in the nicest of terms: they’d simply be “clearing” the path a bit to make the view more desirable- and our property value would even go up! In essence, the magnificent oaks whose sprawling branches made you feel totally enveloped in nature (as well as provided much-needed shade) would be razed, reduced to dead stumps awkwardly protruding from the ground. Because people wanted to better enjoy their view of nature. Ironic. To make things worse, the shrubs separating our backyards from the trail would be uprooted and replaced with ice plants. To be fair, the reasoning on this was justified (it would’ve only taken a single poorly placed cigarette in the highly flammable bushes to set off a massive forest fire); I take issue merely with the Park System’s efficiency (actually, their utter lack thereof) in getting this accomplished. For months, one could not run in peace or enjoy what was left of the scenic view without feeling (and hearing) the imposing, screeching presence of large, grey, polluting vehicles. 

But a trail is a trail, and despite our great displeasure with the change overrunning our natural haven, life went on. The sun continued to rise and set, in the morning setting the sky ablaze with radiant shades of orange and yellow and in the evening leaving in its wake a pallet of stunning watercolors. The new shrubs eventually came to fruition and rain, typically quite sparse, began to fall with greater frequency, greatly contributing to the diversification of colors and flora flourishing on the trail. Things really began looking up a few months ago, when trail-goers first spotted some strange new architectural phenomena sprouting up on the trail.  

I spotted the first “fairy house” while on a run; as I rounded a turn, a ray of light reflected off a marble situated at the bottom of one of the desiccated trunks. As I got closer, I noticed quite a bit more: a red wooden door, painted with care and precision, a mere few inches in height, had been glued to the stump, complete with the tiniest of brass doorknobs and a door mat constructed of what appeared to be a few square inches of delicately placed tweed. To top it off, a little placard, no more than a few centimeters wide, read, “Fairy Daisy’s Home, all Fairies welcome!” Slightly boggled, I stood there a few minutes admiring the detail, and then proceeded on. A pretty strange occurrence, I actually forgot about it until my next venture onto the trail a few days later, when several more “homes” had begun to pop up! Soon enough, word began to spread on the trail and people got quite excited about these miniature residences springing up around all the stumps dotting the trail. In the weeks that followed, a multitude of homes popped up, each with incredible detail and its own unique adornments. Recently, amusement centers even popped up: “Cricket Amphitheater” (featuring fully constructed two-inch wooden benches, a raised stage, and a placard reading “Free Showings between 2 am and 4 am” in the faintest, most minuscule of writing), “Fairies’ Playground” (complete with a pastel-painted, butterfly-adorned roundabout and miniature swings), and even a “Fairy Cell Tower”. Some even featured inspirational quotes. By the start of last week, over 25 fairy enclaves had been built. Many of them were so small and un-imposing that you really had to look to find them, but everyone seemed to love it; all the time, conversation would start between trail-goers mutually admiring and seeking out the fascinating homes adorning the trail. People bonded over these small phenomena, laughing and marveling at the impressive detail and creative genius (as well as mysterious intrigue) surrounding them. No one knew where they came from: more and more seemed to simply pop up overnight. These little constructions that composed an ever-diversifying magical microcosm united so many people, managing to create extensive beauty out of mere stumps.  

Last week I received terrible news. My mom had gone out to walk our puppy, and ALL the homes had vanished. All that remained was a single, brusque note from the OC Park System: after having received a complaint, a Trail Inspector had come and ordered their immediate removal, determining that they "[do] not serve to enhance or support the habitat/wilderness experience”. Right now, many people are at work petitioning and writing the city counsel: these little homes affected, inspired, and brought together so many people. But all I can think is, seriously? Totally unimposing, with not even the slightest of safety risks (it’s plastic and wood crafted intricately onto stumps! Who would complain???) My heart breaks for humanity when people cannot even enjoy small pleasures and cleverly improvised, incredibly pure elements of beauty without taking offense or finding harm in them. Our trees are uprooted, our trails polluted and crammed by vehicles at work stripping them of life. And when an anonymous person creates something beautiful, inspiring, magical, uniting, someone complains. What is the purpose of nature if not to mutually enjoy it, gain inspiration from it, and protect it? These homes were small signs of humanity flourishing. Beacons of hope and creativity. To whomever responsible, I hope your trail experience is maximized by the treeless, shrub-free, and bare-stumped route. 

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