I was meandering along the path of Johnson’s Woods examining the jade leaves that climbed the moss covered logs scattered on the forest floor when suddenly I was jolted out of my reverie by bold words scraped into the silver thinly creased bark of a beech tree. They were not freshly carved, the bark had scabbed over the letters and they had darkened from age, making them even more noticeable. But they were easily visible which made me believe that they couldn’t have been more than a couple of years old.
Why do humans leave behind destructive evidence of being somewhere? Not just footprints, but large striking signs carved into trees to tell the world that “B+T” are in love. Some animals create disruptions of the natural environment as well. Like bucks who leave behind rubs on trees because they are getting rid of the velvet on their antlers. But they don’t carve their names into trees the way humans do.
Is this scarification of forest a way to claim ownership over an area the same way wolves mark their territory? Is this akin to a flag piercing the ground of a new land, calling it property of the ‘discoverer’? Johnson’s woods is by no means a new discovery. In fact, by 1823 when Andrew Johnson’s great grandfather left France and settled in Ohio many of the trees were already 200 years old. Someone had to have been there before ‘B’ and ‘T’ became a couple, probably even before they were born. And yet ‘B’ and ‘T’ assumed that they had the right to commemorate their relationship on an living tree that is probably older than they are.