Where Did Our World Go?

(A more or less essay)

Whatever happened to the way things were?  Oh, I hear that things have got to change and that if you can’t accept that then you aren’t living in the real world.  Even  my dad, before he passed away, used to say that.  Whether he actually believed it or not, I  don’t really know.  Often he acted as if any and all vacant land should be cleared and something built on it – progress, he used to say.  And, that coming from a man who grew up in the hills and woods of Northwest Arkansas at the early turn of the last century.  A time when wildlife was abundant, and the people depended upon the trees and the game to sustain their way of living and to heat their homes and to cook their food.

I know things are different now.  But does that justify the wanton destruction of our natural resources, especially our trees just because it is more convenient and easier to build houses when trees are uprooted in mass?  In the area I live in now, many thousands of acres of natural oak trees have been bulldozed down to make room for more subdivisions.  They used to work around the trees to build the homes, now it is easier to just remove the trees and plant baby ones (not even indigenous to this area) in their place.

I remember lamenting about a large corner lot that was purchased by some developer and a huge oak tree was destroyed.  Now, mind you, this wasn’t any ordinary oak tree.  This was called “The Witness”  tree, a 200 or so year old 60 foot tall post oak tree that was a pivotal landmark for early pioneers traveling into and through this area.  A large corporation, (I won’t mention which one) decided they needed to build a huge outlet store in that location and also to develop the remainder for lease to other businesses.

When public outcry from some environmental groups and local historical societies began to cause them some adverse publicity, the developers decided to “move” the tree.  Mind you, this was a huge oak tree several hundred years old.  But, they began a publicity campaign to “show us” how much they cared about environmental issues and paid several thousands of dollars to dig a huge trench and to box the roots and to drag it to another location.

Before I go any further, this tree wasn’t in the way of a building they planned; it was where the parking lot was to be located.

At any rate, they finally moved the tree to another location, and of course, the publicity they got was what they wanted.  They made sure that everyone knew how concerned they were about the tree.  Well, our Texas summers get pretty hot and dry.  The tree survived for about a year and then died.  By then, of course, everyone had pretty much forgotten about the entire issue. The corporation, I’m sure, felt so badly about the tree dying, that they set up a small memorial with a fence, and put on display a small portion of the trunk and a plaque to show everyone how much they cared.  The rest of the tree was sold off and many artisans made pens and other items from the wood.  All that is left of that magnificent tree is a 10’ long or so piece of the trunk on display in a small park at the back of the shopping center.  It isn’t too accessible to the public  (See the photo above), but  a memorial it is.

Now, I’m not a horticulturalist or an expert on trees, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that you just don’t uproot a couple hundred-year-old tree in the Texas summer, move it and expect it to live.  But, you can get away with it if you know how to play the public relations game.  After all, aren’t we anxious to move from one cause to another and not dwell on one thing too long?

I’m happy to say that their huge outlet store soon closed but they  opened another  store opened in its place.  Now, however, that company is in bankruptcy proceedings.  Am I sad about that?  No, not for them.  I feel badly for their employees who are without work.  I don’t feel badly for their store, or the executives who ran it.

The same thing is happening all over our country.  What was originally open and free land with many wondrous trees and other natural resources have become someone’s property.  Most of the wildlife have been eradicated or move from their homes or have ceased to exist entirely.  Now the property “belongs” to people and many of those people feel as if it is theirs to do what they want.

It is interesting, isn’t it, that 100 or 200 years ago, none of this property belonged to anyone.  Even our Native Americans believed that land and nature belonged to no one.  They called it “Mother Earth”.  Of course they were “savages” and we took it away from them and their ancestors and their future and possessed it ourselves.  We fenced it and posted “no trespassing” signs and often turned violent toward others in order to keep it for ourselves.

Often we lament that we wish things were simpler and like they  “used to be”.  But, do we really?  I doubt it.  I remember as a child, we had no air conditioning, but I don’t really remember suffering too much.  Our air conditioning in our car was running down the highway with the windows down and the wing vent pointed at us.  Oh, I’m sorry, most people don’t know what a wing vent is now.  If we had to cross the desert, we made sure we got up early or did it late at night.

But, that is too inconvenient now.  I know when I go back to Arkansas to visit some of my relatives, they laugh and tell me how fast I talk and I’m too uptight.  After I’ve been there a few days, I slow down, I relax, my speech is slower and I feel so much better.  Maybe Arkansas or the country is not my so-called “cup of tea”, but I’ll tell you one thing, their priorities are a lot different than mine.  And, I’m not sure theirs are wrong. Not too long ago, my uncle told me that more and more people were moving out where he lived.  The first thing  they did was demand garbage pick-up, and city water.  Now they have that, and they are complaining they have too many neighbors and it isn’t the country anymore.  Odd, isn’t it?

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not advocating going back to the “dark ages” or even to stop progress – that would be an asinine thing to think.  I am also not a radical environmentalist who doesn’t think a single tree should be cut down because someone might have spotted some endangered species – or at least make you think they did.  I’m also not one to say we should all be vegetarians because all of God’s creatures have the right to live and to eat one is a wanton, barbaric act. (Even though God put them on earth to sustain man.)

I believe that there is a balance in life and in nature.  I think often we have crossed that line and let money or even lust or whatever it is that drives us beyond reason at times, to interfere with rational thinking.  And, often use that as a reason to excuse us from things that we shouldn’t be doing.  I mean, look at Enron, and Martha, and all the other greedy individuals who are not content to have more than most, but want even more.  As is often said, there is a fine line between genius and insanity, just as there is a fine line between a reason and an excuse.  I just think we need to use a little reason and a little common sense.

As a last note, I’d like you to take the time to read Ray Bradbury’s The Small Town -Plaza: What Life is All About”.  I’m not sure I’d want to live in L.A., but he does make a good point