Friday, February 6, 2009

The grief























I have a favorite shortcut in west Nashville, a winding little road nestled between a pair of steep ridges. There are apartment complexes on one side of the road but the other side is heavily wooded. It’s always a nice route to take, especially in the summer when the trees provide pretty, dappled shade. I’ve often driven along there and thought about all the living things that have found sanctuary in the woods, a place of safety away from the highways and vast expanses of concrete.

I drove that way today for the first time in weeks. I wish I hadn’t. I rounded the first curve to see that the wooded hillside had been scoured. All the lovely trees were gone, nothing left but pitiful stumps. The sweet oasis is now a wasteland. Soon the bulldozers will come to scrape away the earth, and then the ridge will be blasted into submission. A few weeks from now the land will be irrevocably defaced. The usual warren of tacky apartment buildings will go up. In a couple of years it will be impossible to remember the beauty of the place.

I should be used to this by now. I’ve been watching it go on ever since we moved back to Tennessee in 1998. I’ve lost count of the number of beautiful spaces I’ve seen destroyed this way. But no matter how many times I see it, I always feel the same grief. I think of the terror of the animals as their homes are destroyed. I think about the wildflowers that will never bloom there again, and of the migrating songbirds that have lost a way station. If I let myself, I can hear the Earth crying in agony as her body is tortured.

I had a silly idea that the fucked-up economy might put a stop to the destruction, at least temporarily, but of course it hasn’t. If anything, the process is accelerated by people who need to unload land for ready cash, and I’m sure there are plenty of desperate contractors who will sign on with any project, no matter how dubious its financing, since taking a risk beats closing down their businesses. The roadside along the property was dotted with signs announcing a zoning hearing--what a joke. With the recession growing worse by the day, no one in government would dare to block a development that will provide dozens of jobs. You could offer to build a nuclear waste dump or a halfway house for pedophiles and you’d still get a green light with no trouble.

Sometimes I wonder how the people who get rich off this endless rape of the land live with themselves. Do they ever think about the ultimate cost of what they do? Was no piece of ground ever precious to them?



A Forest Floor Still-Life, Otto Marseus van Schrieck, 1666.

12 comments:

Julie H. Rose said...

I'm afraid the answer to your last two questions is "no."

Such a sad post. But this is reality.

chayaruchama said...

I hate this, too.

I love the wild and wild things; they keep me sane, and keep our Earth healthy.

I feel amputated when I witness this sort of senseless destruction.
Physically, and spiritually....

maurac said...

I feel the same grief whenever I see that happening. Even though, like Julie, I realize it's a sad reality, I wish that somehow it would be done differently, with more reverence, instead of a greedy slurping up of the land, a destructive, ravenous monster with no thought but to satisfy an immediate need. I think of Fiver, Hazel, Bigwig and the terror of the original warren's demise in "Watership Down" - it bothers me for a goodly while.

BitterGrace said...

So many people feel the pain of this, and yet it never stops. "Watership Down" was written how many decades ago? In my more reasonable moments, I feel that the grief is really pointless, and gets in the way of taking action that will help preserve the land. Other times, like yesterday, I think it will be a good thing when we fuck up the planet enough to drive ourselves to extinction. Then the earth can recover from the human virus.

dissed said...

God, I hate it. It makes me hurt in too many ways. Where's That Tree, they've buried the spring, where's the rock that the water snake liked . . . I've thought about the ice cores in Greenland, global warming, and all of those volcanoes around the world, threatening to erupt, soon, or soon enough. If they manage to synchronize within a couple of hundred years, they may usher in the next ice age. And there goes, well, a lot of Mess.

Turn, turn, turn.

whodat said...

I'm so sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

I live in Atlanta, where we're seeing more and more "PVC farms." This is where a developer scrapes the land, installs the sewer pipes (the blue ones that stick up out of the ground)and then runs out of money. With the credit crunch there are more and more of these, gash-like wounds in our red soil.

In my experience the longtime residents of the Appalachian South have little reverence for land, despite the popular myth. An old-timer dies and his kids waste no time selling the family holdings to some daddy's -money "developer." Then, the bank denies further credit when the project goes over budget, the "developer" leaves town, and the result is a PVC farm.

In a few summers, the weeds will cover the pipes, then the mimosas and scrub pine and maybe, with any luck, this blight -- the scraped-clean surroundings of a once forested city -- will disappear as the land retakes them.

One can only hope.

BitterGrace said...

Thanks, Whodat. It is very like a death.

We've got a few of those PVC farms around here, Anon, and I expect to see more.

As for abandoning the land, you're right that people are very quick to sell off land they inherit. It's always sad to see, and I have a particular reason to hate the practice: The acres of pasture land behind my house belong to an elderly woman who has shown no inclination to sell--but her heirs are champing at the bit. I expect that land to go up for auction within a week of her death.

Unfortunately, unless families can afford to hang onto land--taxes, etc.--there's not much they can do but sell it. They can sign it over to a conservation trust, but that's asking them to take a big hit financially, unless they are very wealthy, which usually isn't the case.

The ideal thing is to have more money available to buy land and preserve it. I'd love to see more public funds spent that way. Tennessee is a relatively poor state, but our fairly enlightened governor has made some good moves in that direction. I wish more state governments would do the same.

And of course, it goes without saying that developers ought to be reined in, and forced by law to include some genuine green space in their projects.

Anonymous said...

"The ideal thing is to have more money available to buy land and preserve it. I'd love to see more public funds spent that way. Tennessee is a relatively poor state, but our fairly enlightened governor has made some good moves in that direction. I wish more state governments would do the same.

And of course, it goes without saying that developers ought to be reined in, and forced by law to include some genuine green space in their projects."

These thoughts are a good place to start. If enough people become overcome with grief about such treatment of land, things will start to change. It may not be during our lifetime, but we could start it, right?
Nika

BitterGrace said...

I think we could, Nika. The pendulum seems to be swinging the right way.

mIKES said...

My money is on the Ganesha that is responsible for the decimation by way perhaps of an expansion? I'd love to absorb the geography of that road but the motorcycle cop on constant duty scares the heck out of me - I stare at my speedometer instead.

BitterGrace said...

You're in the right neighborhood, mIKES, but the road I was talking about is much smaller than OHB, and I'm quite sure the temple cannot be blamed. Anyway, I wouldn't really begrudge the folks at Ganesha--at least they contribute to the cultural life of the city, unlike all those "real estate professionals."

I read your profile. Not very fond of us natives, are you?