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

Monday, December 13, 2010

The once and future lane

The woods and the lane running through it looked stunned this afternoon. Just a few days ago there was snow on the firs and ice on the asphalt. The temperature was in the teens. Winter was bedding in. But now everything is wet and brown, and water is running in the ditches, and the storm threatens more rain, and I could have done the walk in my shirtsleeves, it's that mild. There were whiffs in the air of both freshness and decay, as if the seasons were all mixed up. Of course they are: just a few hundred miles to the west the country is suffering a huge winter snow storm.

I thought of Robert Finch's essay "The Once and Future Cape" (published in his book Death of a Hornet) as I walked. Finch is a writer who chronicles the beauty of nature and change on Cape Cod, but this essay concerns the kind of change he'd rather not celebrate. By the nature of the place, basically a huge sandbar, the Cape is used to change, and its beauty at least in part comes from the peculiar allure of how the natural world changes but not really. The essence of the Cape survives the shifting dunes and the erosion and the new channel cuts from big storms. But it's not surviving humans very well. Finch describes the changes on the dirt road he lives on; over the course of 20 years the road has been gravelled and stone-dusted and straightened, which caused erosion; a subdivision of ranches and mini-malls developed at its far end, which caused traffic; it was paved and ditched, which caused hideousness; and then his neighbor died and the land was sold by the heirs to yet another developer. He can hardly bear to walk the road anymore. He writes, "But if I have learned anything as a writer, as chronicler of this extraordinary, doomed place, it is this: there is only so much fascination in watching something beautiful die."

I like to think that our lane, built basically on rock, will not suffer such a fate. There are houses at its end, on the shore, but after that, leading up the Ash Point Drive, there is nothing but woods. Yes, it's paved, but it's crumbling a bit. Yes, a new ditch was dug last fall, and some blackberry bushes uprooted, and that part of the lane now looks a little suburban, but no other "improvements" have been accomplished. It's just a plain woods, subtle in its winter colors, exquisite in its summer foliage, restful and iconic even when it's spring in December.


Kellie said...

So sad to watch what we do to the places we love.

Jeff Boatright said...

My first lesson in the stupidity of adults was when a road widening crew read a map upside down and wiped out a huge swath of oaks that had been a large part of the woods that "protected" us neighborhood kids from the wider world. It was a bitter lesson made worse by what followed once the widening was done.

Thirty odd years have gone by and I had occasion to go back and visit and work that property last November. The road is still too wide for the surroundings or the traffic "needs". It still cuts a gash through the rolling hills far more prominent than its worth. What was "developed"? Who benefited? And the oaks never came back.

Who can blame them?