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Walking through the proposed "Bob Brown Park," I come upon the old Belle Meade Plantation wall and stop to consider it. Winding its way through 100+ year old forest, the wall has its own beauty. Unlike other walls around town, this one is cut of Chert mined from these hilltops. Chert is why our hills are capped with distinctive communities dominated by by Chestnut Oak, Sourwood, Azalea, Deerberry, and other low-pH, low-moisture loving plants. Chert breaks with sharp edges, a feature which also qualifies it as a good material for arrowheads and other stone tools. This smooth yellow stone hints at life in the shallow sea that stood here 350 million years ago.

Many folks who support conservation of the West Meade landscape are keen to see this wall preserved. I admit, however, that over the years I have taken only a passing interest in this part of our landscape. As a naturalist, my focus on the plants, animals and geology have trumped curiosity about the human history. Perhaps a part of me also didn't want to confront the fact that the wall in my back yard was built by slaves and stands as a legacy of a social order that was best dismantled. Yet, as racial discord has seized the attention of our nation in the last year, doesn't this wall stand as an important reminder of the roots of inequality? It seems too easy to forget that the reason black Americans are disproportionately represented among the poor and imprisoned traces back to the time that 25% of Tennessee's population was forced to build this and so many other walls.

Pits and mounds from old quarry
And in this age of frontloaders and backhoes, it seems too easy to forget what it took to build a wall such as this. Where intact, the heavy stones still fit perfectly. It is testament to the skill of the people some 200 years ago who, under their own strength cut, carried, and placed these stones. Half a mile away near the southeast end of the proposed "Bob Brown Park" a series of pits with sharp edges protruding mark the apparent hand-dug quarry from which the stone was hauled. What would these builders think of me walking through this forest 200 years later, inspecting their work and trying to envision their lives? In all we do, we leave a legacy in nature, the ripples of our endeavors traveling on through the centuries. Today, weasels find shelter in the wall's crevices. The box turtles on one side of the wall are long isolated from their kin on the other side. Split trunk trees near the wall tell of old logging. The once dominant American Chestnut remains largely absent from our forests. This all makes me wonder what legacy of my passing will be left on the landscape 200 years from today.