Friday, February 6, 2009
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.