The Anglo-Irish poet Oliver Goldsmith saw it coming. He recorded several negative aspects of the new Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, most famously in his poem called “The Deserted Village.”
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,/ Where wealth accumulates and men decay….
In 2013, old farms come up for sale in my neighborhood, and the buyers are not new farmers. The thriving dairies of the 20th century have pretty much disappeared. And homesteaders who arrived here some 40 to 50 years ago appear to be dying off as well. Too often the farm owners have aged; the sons and daughters have no interest in struggling for survival in an economically strangled shire. So the land gets purchased by hunting clubs or resource extraction companies.
The local villages have lost their business to the Wal-Mart towns. The Ma and Pa grocery stores have crumbled and even the local hotel/tavern has signed off. Some wildlife stands to benefit from the break down and desertion of community, but it does so mostly for the new hunters and their ATVs. The hunt clubs will assume a royal air and make damned sure that the peasantry doesn’t step beyond the Posted sign.
So I look at a complex issue and I see that the land is moving away. I’d love to be wrong about this; I’d love to be wrong and viewed as a pessimistic crank. Better yet, I’d love to state correctly that it’s people who are moving away. People who move away, who hang on to the power of return, who might reclaim the land from outside interests. I dream that it’s a possibility; people may return to the city or the countryside, any place where roots can grow.
But I’m not holding my breath. It’s not another case of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” coming through. I don’t believe that the new occupiers of the land are any more “fit” or durable than the previous owners… Ugh, my bloodstream tells me that it’s time to fly fish. Maybe by this weekend, maybe….
Sprawl has been a cultural force since the Industrial Revolution started, but I’m wondering about these other ills amassing on the landscape of private property (and please, don’t get me started on the issue of climate change; I’m trying to keep this brief!).
Why should we care? Isn’t there enough earth and water in the public sphere? Where are we headed as a nation of land proprietors and recreation enthusiasts? Where are we going as we mobilize increasingly in our search for jobs, security, and fun? A nation on the move is a good thing if it holds to its roots and cares for the environment. But a nation on the move doesn’t see or feel much of the ground it moves across. If constituents of a nation do not care, they can’t defend the land or water under siege.
For better or worse, I was out walking the other day and wondering. I climbed the hill for a clearer view of things but I’m not certain that what I saw and thought ring true. I hope the streams and rivers don’t move off.
Readers, any thoughts or concerns on “land moves,” near or far?