I’m back from a brief trip to Seattle; it was my 20th year high school reunion last night. I flew out there Thursday afternoon, enjoyed a couple of days of seeing the city and some friends and family, and then spent yesterday evening at a big bash getting caught up with folks from high school. And then it was a mad dash to Sea-Tac Airport to hop the redeye back to O’Hare. I got just enough sleep to make the drive home and to do the morning chores at the farm, but I’m going to need a nap this afternoon.
Some initial thoughts:
1) I was shocked to discover things I now had in common with people I barely knew 20 years ago. One person, for instance, had moved his family to a ten acre cherry orchard in central Washington State ─ for many of the same reasons we moved to the country ourselves. I didn’t even know this person in high school, and yet we spent quite a bit of time last night comparing notes about rural life. Another person has made business trips to Gibson City to visit his company’s suppliers ─ that town is just 15 minutes from our house, and where we buy all our livestock feed. When I heard the words “Gibson City” come out of his mouth, I had to pause to pick my jaw up off the floor. Simply astounding.
2) The Seattle area has grown so much in recent years, the outlying communities are unrecognizable. Woodinville, for example, is now a solid patch of pavement and chain stores. When I was in grade school in the late 1970s, a good friend lived on a heavily wooded lot on what was then the edge of Woodinville. It was so private, we would shoot rifles in those woods. Now, that entire hillside is covered with tract homes. And our grade school has basically doubled in size. They ought to rename the place “Pavementville.”
3) Everywhere you look, driving around Seattle, there are signs signs advertising “green” this and “environmentally friendly” that. And yet, the “green” was disappearing everywhere. And the massive developments going in sure didn’t look like they were trying to minimize any kind of footprint. As my thoughts drifted back to the very green organic farm that Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I have sweated to build up these past six years, I couldn’t help wondering how many of the people who put up these signs or buy those products would tolerate a neighbor who wanted to pasture a goat and a few laying hens in their residential area ─ as was common in all big cities as recently as the 1940s? Or is “green” becoming just another consumer product that people can purchase at a natural food store?
4) Particularly dismaying was visiting the neighborhood where I’d grown up and where my family lived for over 25 years. The neighborhood had basically been carved out of a thick cedar forest, more than 40 years ago. The roads and lots followed and respected the natural contours of the land, and many original old-growth cedars had been left near the homes themselves. Even as new houses had been added over the years, the heavily-wooded perimeter (and remaining old-growth trees in people’s yards) ensured that the neighborhood maintained a quiet and private feel. But in just the last year or two, one of the major bordering landowners sold out to developers. An enormous swath of trees has been completely ripped out and bulldozed, and a road has been put in to establish a new subdivision of tightly-packed popup houses. No respect for land contours, or any existing trees — just blow it all down, re-shape it to maximize the number of building lots, and put those houses up. My neighborhood no longer has the sense of being carved out of the forest. It now looks like one big piece of pavement.
5) About a mile or two away from our neighborhood was a huge horse farm and pasture; it took up literally hundreds of acres. Somehow, as shopping centers went up all around it, this farm always managed to preserve itself. Even when I was out to visit last summer, it was a relief seeing that piece of pasture holding out. I nearly cried when I saw what has happened since: the farmhouse where we used to buy fresh eggs has vanished, along with all the barns and outbuildings. Bulldozers have swept the whole thing clean, and are beginning to chew up the pasture.
Apparently, I’m not the only person dismayed by what’s going on out there. Just a half mile from the ruined horse farm, yet another stand of trees had been bulldozed and was being prepared for yet another subdivision. But look what someone spray painted on the developer’s sign:
I don’t usually approve of vandalism, but sometimes the truth is the truth.
Made it all the more poignant when I went to Mass yesterday evening and heard a booming homily about “stewardship.” God made the earth so beautiful, with all its complexity, because (as Aquinas explains), that way it is a more perfect revelation of God’s goodness and love than if he had only created a few simple things. And while the earth is here for us humans to use and have dominion over, when we simply exploit that creation for our own naked ambitions and profit (the priest didn’t use the same word the spray paint vandal did, but it fits) we diminish and cloud the revelation of God’s perfection. I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.
God have mercy on these developers. And on all of us who, directly or indirectly, have fueled the out-of-control demand that keeps the trees falling and these developments coming.