Saturday, April 23, 2011

Wilderless

I'm no tree hugger. Nature's fine, but I like man-made things, too. I remember the time I visited my brother when he was still living in Chicago. We went out one night to see the Second City comedy troupe. From atop a six-story parking garage not far from the theater, I could see the whole of the Chicago skyline. Well, maybe "whole" is an exaggeration. The six-story parking garage itself was downtown, and thus not part of the skyline within my field of vision. That's all right. There was quite enough in that field already. One skyscraper after another, their windows aglow in the crisp March night. Spectacular! So taken was I with the dark, towering, twinkling beauty of it all, I felt like putting on my top hat and tails and singing "I'll Take Manhattan." Except I don't own a top hat and tails, and I was in Chicago, not Manhattan.

But I wonder, would I have been equally in awe had I been a couple centuries old and seen it first in 1780, the way the Pottawatomie tribe viewed it, as a forest on the shores of a great lake? I may very well have been pissed that now, in the 21st century, there were buildings instead of trees. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to sing "I'll Take Manhattan". At a couple of centuries old, I might have considered it one of those new songs I have a difficult time getting into.

I said I like both nature and man-made things. When they're both in their proper places. Like it was when I was a kid. The man-made things were ranch houses and bungalows and playgrounds and sidewalks and supermarkets and laundromats (which, at a tender age, I really looked forward to going to with my mom. I found it cool watching the clothes spin) and amusement parks and Red Barn restaurants. Nature was the Cleveland Metroparks, which I now realise is basically man-made, but man-made with God-made trees and such. Nature could also be drives in the country, which I seem to remember my parents taking us kids on quite a bit when I was, say, 5, 6, or 7. Where we were going exactly, I have no recollection, but I enjoyed watching the rural parts of Northeast Ohio zip by the car window. Most, though some might say least, of all, nature was the odd fields or woods that pop up in the suburbs. You know, those undeveloped pieces of land that you assume will just stay undeveloped because, when you're a kid, you don't really expect any change in the future short of the dramatic change you might see on The Jetsons or Star Trek. Nature and man-made. City and country. Civilization and wilderness. All in their proper places. Until the birthdays add up, and you notice that there's more civilization, more city, more man-made things than ever before.

It's been a year since the BP explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. A lot of people were upset about the subsequent despoliation of the environment. Was I? Well, intellectually I found it regrettable. But it didn't really, as they say, hit a little too close to home. But something else that happened in this still-new century did.

In the summer following the 8th grade, I got a job delivering newspapers at a condo development. The condominiums were fairly new. Some hadn't even been moved into yet. But since this was a part of town I hadn't been to before, they might as well have been there for a hundred years. Everything in its' proper place. Next to the condos were some woods. Occasionally, when I was done with my route, I would duck into the woods, and do some exploring. Not much exploring. These woods were pretty small. The only way you could get lost in them would be to wander in a circle smaller than a Kmart parking lot. If you looked up, you could see telephone wires overhead. It was close enough to the road that you could hear the traffic whizzing by. Yet it was considerably more rural than the development where I had just delivered papers. I imagine the people in the condominiums liked having the woods right next door. It made them feel, as Marie Osmond once sang, a little bit country.

About ten years ago, I drove by my old paper route, and that little bit country was gone. I'd driven past it before, but guess I hadn't paid attention, or given much thought, to the uprooting of trees, and bulldozing of ground that was taking place. Hey, I was trying to keep my eyes on the road! In place of those woods were brand new 21st century condominiums that blend in seamlessly with the ones from the 1970s right next door (condo architecture apparently not having changed much in 35 years.) Now, it's one thing to turn the Gulf of Mexico into the La Brea Tar Pits, but this was a major assault on my memories!

I've always assumed that overdevelopment goes hand in hand with overpopulation. You've got to put those 6.91 billion people on the planet somewhere. But that's not even an issue in Northeast Ohio. We've been losing people for as long as I can remember. We've also been knocking down trees and paving over fields and putting up structures in their place for as long as I can remember. What's the point of building new houses and shopping centers while the population remains stagnant? Well, it may remain stagnant, but it doesn't stay still. For the past 60 years, the same number of people have moved from some parts of Northeast Ohio to another. Along the way, cement, concrete, asphalt, bricks, mortar, lumber, steel beams, and aluminum siding have been shuffled around like deck chairs on the--well, I won't stoop to using the cliche, but the actress Kate Winslet comes to mind.

Sometimes, what's developed ends up needing even more developing. I currently live in the Cleveland suburb of Strongsville. I needed to know recently how much it would cost to send a bunch of documents through the mail. The Strongsville post office is on Pearl Road, a major thoroughfare, not far from the Median County line. Strongsville has undergone tremendous growth during the last few decades. So has Medina County. As a result, some people who live in Medina County go to jobs in Strongsville and vice versa. Traffic jams have resulted in certain times of the day, and so it's been decided to widen Pearl to make it easier to go to and fro. When I paid my visit to the post office, there were more orange barrels than there are skyscraper's in Chicago and Manhattan put together. The actual road had been dug up and a temporary zigzag of pavement built right next to it. Some workers waved flags at confused drivers trying not to fall sideways into the the canyon where the right and left lanes used to be, while others shoveled and jackhammered and generally contributed to a fog of dust. Traffic was backed up worse than ever.

Thus, in order to make it easier to go from Medina County into Strongsville, and vice versa, it will be, for a time, more difficult to go from Medina County into Strongsville. And vice versa.

Such is progress.

11 comments:

  1. I once commented, while stuck in traffic during a major road expansion project, that I wondered if people would think it made a huge difference once it was all over, becauase at least it wasn't as bad as when it was under construction. And Husband thought that I may be on to something...

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  2. I've been lucky, at an advanced age, to find a second going-away-from-everything place on the planet (my first love was the ocean). In the desert, I feel fresh, renewed, rebuilt, open, rewarded. I like to think of this as I bump along Las Vegas roadways under perpetual reconstruction. I believe the Nevada State Bird should be the ubiquitous orange traffic cone.

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  3. @Cram Cake--I think drivers may notice the improvement initially, no matter how much a pain in the ass it was getting there, but what happens is this. The road isn't merely improved for those drivers who have been using it all along. NEW drivers, people who have previously been using different routes, decide they'd like to use the expanded road, too. Busineses pop up to cater to that new clientele, and pretty soon you have traffic jams all over again, and it becomes necessary once again to widen the road...

    @Leslie--I go to the Cleveland Metroparks, which is kind of makeshift nature, but I like it.

    Is that orange cone the beak of the Nevada State Bird?

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  4. Thanks for the memories Kirk. Pearl Road was the site of the last home I lived in prior to moving to California. Can't say I have great memories, but I can see where you've been.

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  5. @Tag--Where on Pearl road? It starts in Cleveland and goes all the way to the city of Medina. Beyond that, I believe it has a different name, though it's still route 42

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  6. i am an avowed tree hugger, just because i like to hug trees. they do hug back, you know. during my life, i've watched the concreting of several areas, much to the dismay, and abandonment, of the indigenous wildlife. like you said, we have to put all these damn people somewhere. what i always end up wondering is how we can be so technologically adept (although that is an arguable point) and so destructive of that which sustains us, that being nature.

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  7. Trees hug back? I thought all they did was throw apples, like in The Wizard of Oz, or eat kites, like in Peanuts.

    All kidding aside, you're right about the indigenous wildlife. Here in Ohio, deers get displaced quite a bit, and end up wandering through suburban neighborhoods and the like, creating quite a stir.

    Bambi's attacking! Bambi's attacking! Help!!

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  8. whoops memory overload error....error....error
    I meant to say I lived near Pearl Rd, not on it. At the Corner of
    w130th and what is now bagley but used to be pleasant valley in 1968.

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  9. @Griya Mobil Kita--Glad you liked the post. Unfortunately, I can't buy what you're selling in that link. At least, I THINK you're selling it. Sorry, but me no understand de language.

    @Tag--It's still Pleasant Valley. Bagley and Pleasant Valley is the same road. I believe it's called Bagley when you're driving through Middleburg Heights, Berea, and Olmstead Falls. When you're driving through Parma and Seven Hills, it's Pleasant Valley. Sounds like you lived not too far from the Southland shopping center (which has seen better days).

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  10. Bagley and Pleasant Valley ARE the same road.

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