Land Moves (On the Need to Fish)

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.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI need to fish again, folks; it’s been a long month off the water…

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”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 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!).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhy 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.

Straight out— This guy has to fish!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Readers, any thoughts or concerns on “land moves,” near or far?

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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14 Responses to Land Moves (On the Need to Fish)

  1. The bright spot on the horizon is that many young people (my kids’ ages) are placing a higher value on authentic places and experiences. Rampant consumerism may be starting to lose some of its luster. In its place, maybe we’ll see stronger land and water ethics emerge. In the meantime, go fish!

    • Jim, Maybe you’re right about the general direction being taken by the more discriminating members of the younger generation. I certainly like to think so, and maybe they’ll become a stronger voice for an ethic that had earlier gained some ground. Society might be stupid, but a lot of bright minds may give us hope.


      • Bob Stanton says:

        Lordy, I hope Jim is right. I don’t have much faith in society as a whole; it seems that near catastrophic events are the only thing that’ll wake people up. Even if the majority of folks don’t have an “outdoorsy” bent that would give them some insight into the importance of maintaining the health of the natural world, maybe everyone should have some Rachel Carson or Aldo Leopold as mandatory reading, sort of a primer on “land ethics” as it were.

      • Bob, Well said. I’ve always been pessimistic when looking at society in regard to these matters, but to keep from sinking into despair, I’ve looked at certain young people doing good work (as Jim has pointed out) as a possible spark to renaissance. Problem is, we need a torch to get things looking greener. Otherwise it takes a major blow-out like an Alaskan spill or BP melt-down in the Gulf, or some nuclear catastrophe to make us look good and hard at what’s being done around us. I like your idea that Carson and Leopold should be mandatory reading in “Environmental Studies,” if they aren’t already.


  2. Cynthia Barnett’s Blue Revolution is one that I think should be required reading. And her first book, Mirage, should be committed to memory before anyone can run for office in Florida.

    • Jim, Thanks for the tip about the books by C. Barnett. Florida politicos take note. I’ll certainly check into the work. Maybe we can add Barnett’s stuff to our list of required reading.


  3. Puget Keith says:

    The interesting question for me is what is the fate of land where there isn’t a strong local determined environmental constiency. It’s a bit unfair to compare traditional eastern values with those in the relatively young northwest but the fact that we developed a 100+ years after the east allowed us to somewhat avoid the tremendous transformation so evident in NJ, Philadelphia, and NY. Certainly there has been great environmental destruction here but there is clear hope for tomorrow. Just as Jim says above I also know a lot of younger folks that are much more inclined to exchange car ownership for ZipCar and many of them are not excited to buy a tract house 90 minutes from work. On top of that there is a strong environmental ethic that has evolved in recent decades that has limited spraw, restored streams, promoted robust recycling, and created many many people that are interested in saving land for recreation from logging. Many challenges remain but in the end, I am sure, saving the land from something always includes someone to start with saying no. (this is a bit rambling but I hope I made so coherent points)

    • Thanks for sharing some excellent points here, Keith. Yeah, there’s certainly a world of difference between eastern and western regions overall. There’s a lot more public land out West, intended for preservation, and since the days of Muir, many wilderness advocates have focused their energies there. Out here, where there’s little outside of the private realm beside the Smokies and the Adirondacks and a few national parks, the shuttling back and forth of ownership presents a different feeling.


    • Puget Keith says:

      I don’t know why but I thought about my post above all day. I think a big difference between what you see in your neck of the woods and mine is that you sense that changing owners means changing land use. I presume this to be true. With the dying off of the older generation comes the loss of the values that made the land what it was. The land then passes to their children who, with new lives far away, sell. The land, as it is now, is more valuable for fracking, gun clubs, or other uses you see coming down the pike. Changing ownership means new uses, some that are unwelcome to folks that value conservation and environmental stewardship. This is my guess.

      Where I live new owners doesn’t necessarily mean new uses. The use of the land is highly regulated and most large tracts that I can think of late have become public parks or at least governed by conservation easements. And as you mentioned in your reply much of the Cascades and Olympics are owned by you and me. Most new development has come by increasing the densities in Seattle and other regional cities. This has a real cost where housing, even after the collapse of values, make most single-family housing very expensive unless you want a one hour commute to work (I commute about three hours a day.) In addition to highly regulated land use there is the limits of geography. The available land is constricted by water and mountains.

      Sorry for going on and on about this but the issues of land use and how we continue to develop are very real issues in my life. I have seen so much change since moving to Seattle in 1995 that it’s hard to compare it to the Philadelphia region that I grew up.

      • Keith, No need to apologize for “rambling” at Rivertop Rambles. Your response is thoughtful and actually concise, considering some of the very real differences in land use between, let’s say, Pennsy and Washington. Your evaluation of my initial concern (first paragraph) is spot on. And then you nail a difference on the head. Near you, there’s more “regulation” as to what develops or is preserved in land use issues. Some of that difference is part of the reason I’m naturally attracted to the West in general. It remains more wild and open, despite all the modern life constrictions. The East, by contrast, is much older and European. Very settled, despite enclaves of wilderness. Good stuff to consider here. Maybe we can keep the conversation moving along with another post, later, on some different aspect of it.


  4. I agree with you Walt. Sprawl is bound to happen as our population continues to grow. I clearly see this living in Maine with a very large population moving up from New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts- inevitably, making their new home resemble their last.

    • Thanks Peter. Yeah, that “making the new home resemble their last” phenomenon has always irked me. It tells me that they want to move out but they’re certainly not willing to adapt to a new environment. They’re too good for that, I guess.


  5. thosnut says:

    I want to trust humans to make the right choices about land use, but the truth is there are some that should not be trusted. Most want to make a better world, but the few who don’t aren’t afraid to use their bulldozer to get what they want…I guess that I need to go fish too.

    • Thank god for the fishing option! I know of someone in the neighborhood who convinced the landowner to lease his property and then to bulldoze a road up the steep hill in order to make it easier for himself to ride an ATV to a new deer stand on the hill. Just crazy.


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