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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Monday, September 28, 2009

Washington creep

We attended a wedding this weekend in Washington, VA, about 75 miles west of Washington, DC. By the time you get that far out, it's the foothills of the Shenandoahs and mostly rural. But until then, DC and its infernal traffic (think cars stopped dead on the interstate 30 miles west of the city) creeps into every valley and over every hill and has been doing so for a long time.

It must have been gorgeous once, the rolling hills, the blue mountains in the distance. Until Shenandoah National Park was created in 1935, the area was logged and mined and camped and developed. Now there is at least some reclaimed "wilderness" near the seats of power, but one wonders if proximity has anything to do with it when the seats get in jets and fly right over. Your choice, Senator, Reagan or Dulles? Your ranch or your chalet?

The weather was so bad that we didn't motor along Skyline Drive as planned, but instead toured Luray Caverns, an impressive cave with magnificent 'mites and 'tites. Most impressive was a perfectly still and reflective pool, just a few inches deep, that created a dream city from the stalactites hanging down. It looked deep, complex, other-worldly, yet was just a reflection.
Shenandoah must be like that, a rescued world, taken back from the developers and the politicians. Ken Burns says that Shenandoah was one of the inspirations for his new series, his father having taken him there when he was six. How much better never having to be rescued at all.

In another 75 years, will Portland/Gorham/Naples resemble suburban Virginia? Will Congress pronounce Maine's Great North Woods a national treasure while there is still virgin forest, never-touched land, clear lakes?

We took some humor, if not comfort, in a large sign painted on the side of the truck just outside Shenandoah park:


If we're not careful, and prudent, and wise, any future national park will need to be reverse-engineered, carved out of landfills, reclaimed from strip malls.

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