Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Land We Story

I recently saw a passionate, beautifully written editorial in a local Loudoun newspaper, and have chosen to publish it in its entirety below. It expresses brilliantly why place is so important and how we are losing it everyday in America:

"The population of this great and grand country is in turmoil. There is a constant shifting of people from places of their birth to places very far away. The college of their choice or acceptance is far from home. Employment requires a long commute. Mother, who has been living in another city, now requires intensive care. Has anyone measured the waste of time this traveling and commuting entails? The pollution, the isolation, the frustration it creates? We move. We shift around. We keep looking for that perfect place or we keep looking for a place that can get us to the perfect place. In all those places in between we try to live our lives and make meaning of our existence.

Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Aren’t we supposed to “story” the land, and give ourselves up to it? Isn’t the sense of place one of the most important parts of the air we breathe and the heart of our homeland? Where is our home? Who is our home? Why do we keep shifting around and trying to find a sense of place, all the while leaving the places we know, and have known, for the better part of our lives?

The Nichols family didn’t need a sense of place. They storied the land. They gave the place its meaning. They knew who they were and they made their place here. And they kept it as a sacred trust. In doing so they drew all of us in who came to them for our little and small needs, our garden seeds and paint, the bolts and nuts that make our shelves stay in place or our doors open and shut, and our daily endeavors connected to our community at large. The Nichols were a staying force. A binding and enduring presence. They were an essential part of the landscape and the meaning of this place. They were what gave America its strength. And they are dying out. And now the fabric of America is frayed, because people are moving in and out of the towns and cities that define us. We are losing our sense of place, and with that we are losing the very land we are supposed to cherish.

Over fifty percent of the American population moves within a five year period. Think of that. Can a community survive that? Can any town keep its binding and cohesive force when over half of its population moves in such a short time? On average ten percent of the population is moving out every year, and being replaced by people who have no sense of the place they have moved into. A sense of place takes time. It takes time to story the land because, as Frost said, we need to give everything we have into it. And we won’t do that if we know the stretch we are spending here will be short. So we withhold ourselves. And we give less. And we love less. And the stories we tell are more superficial and sentimental stories. We are not putting down roots, we are sending out feelers. Our communities become plastic and artificial. No one is accountable because so many of us will be leaving soon. The critical mass of engaged adults never coalesces. Talk of small town life becomes a platitude.

In the Harris Teeter appeal Judge Chamblin said essentially that citizens have no rights to determine what happens on the site plan for the Gateway Development. Here are all the capitalists who want businesses to thrive, but communities to falter. Here big business is all that matters while the heartland falls away. Thousands and thousands of towns in this country have been mugged by Walmart. This is what Donovan Rypkema was talking about at the Carver Center. Did anyone listen? People like the Nichols, whose steadfast belief in getting up every morning and knowing the landscape of their earlier lives is reflected in the people they hired who have stayed with them so many years, this is what Donavan Rypkema was talking about.
Here is the land of the free and the home of the brave. And here is the land where a good percentage of people leave because the lovely landscape they moved into is being turned into a shopping center. And for no good reason. Who is free when he is forced to move because capitalism or the Town Council trumps the rich inheritance of time and the wishes of the people? How free are you when you are “tied up” in traffic two or three hours a day because you need to get to work in a place out of your community?

Land of the free and home of the brave? Where is everyone when the corrupt council members make their decisions and you are somewhere else because this place is temporary, and you will be moving on to better things? Where will these better things be if at any time the landscape of your dreams can be changed into a shopping mall? How many people who now look onto the lovely Cole Farm will move when the fumes of parking cars hit them as they sit out on their decks? When the trash and noise builds up? When crime increases?

Another ten percent gone. Gone to disgust, to disillusionment, to looking for a better life. Another ten percent that could have storied the land and made the community strong, but who left because leaving was the only vote they had the right to express. This is the desperate sense of helplessness the American population is living through. And we express this as freedom?? The freedom to never connect ourselves to a sense of place? The very freedoms that our forefathers built this nation upon??

Because there is no way, apparently, that the people who live in a community have any control over how that community will evolve. As long as citizens have no say in the development of their own communities, we will keep shifting around, looking for the perfect place when, in fact, it is just below our feet, if we could just keep hold of it.

Local businesses, like the Nichols, like Crooked Run Orchard, keep communities strong and cohesive. Chains, like Harris Teeter, keep communities poor and force people to commute long distances or to leave. The 200 jobs that the article talked about creating are temporary jobs and the permanent jobs are low-paying jobs that will be filled by people living in West Virginia, as they are now at Giant and Bloom. The hell in traffic it will create isn’t worth the tax revenues that this town will spend on new and useless projects.

When we have no control over where we live and where we work, who is free? And when we let others decide for us how our landscape will look and feel, who is brave?

Until the ordinary citizen gets involved we will continue to be tossed about by overweening interests and money. The Tea Party was an expression of anger, but showed little sense and reason. The single person is all that matters in this country. And single persons need to start attending the meetings at the Town Hall. And single persons need to start electing honest and reasonable people who care about their futures, about the land, about the country we inhabit, about our freedoms and well-being. That is the only way we will be the land of the free and the home of the brave. Anything else is a fairy tale. And we have been riding on the fumes of fairy tales for some decades now." November 20, 2010, Alice in Wonderland, The Purcellville Post; photo courtesy of VistaVision

1 comment:

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