The Changing Landscape
Much of my life was spent in denying the truth that change is inevitable. But as much as I have fought it, change has become even more pronounced.
These and similar examples of change rank as nothing but the natural cycle of things and can not be considered either good or bad.
Other kinds of change, though, have a more sinister character.
Deforestation in the form of “liquidation cuts” makes me cringe. This is often done because someone plans on putting their property up for sale, trying to reap all the financial benefit possible in the process.
Woodcutting for the sake of sustainable harvest is a good thing. But as a friend once said: “In northern Maine they cut trees and grow trees. In southern Maine they cut trees and grow houses.”
That practice is creeping northward. So when you notice that someone has cut every tree down to those the diameter of a coffee can, you can rest assured that the place is going on the market soon. In the case of a large woodlot, liquidation cutting serves as a prelude to subdividing the land.
Nowadays, houses spring up like mushrooms after a September rain. Places where once people like me hunted, fished, foraged and communed with nature become someone’s backyard in less time than it takes to tell about it.
In the end, the character of a community becomes completely changed. New people move in, people who never knew old Mr. Peavey who lived in the ramshackle house atop Peavy Hill, people who have no idea that the place where they built their houses was once a milk stop on a long-forgotten railroad. People who never knew and don’t care to learn about place names and how those names were acquired.
My point is not to criticize any person, persons, group of persons or anything of the sort. Instead, I bemoan the loss of a simpler culture, one that fostered me and was always kind to me.
Here are some examples of how things went in simpler times.
When someone caught a 12-inch or bigger brook trout, it became the talk of the neighborhood. Ditto for a buck deer. In fact, a common practice for country people on a Sunday afternoon was to drive around and stop in where a deer was hanging. The visit was to congratulate the successful hunter. That was just kind of nice. Today, few display their deer because of growing anti-hunting sentiment.
The first person to pick a mess of fiddleheads was always a celebrity, although that fame was short-lived.
When someone drove too far to the right during mud season and became stuck in the mire, there was never a need to call for a tow truck because sooner or later someone would come by and would hook a chain to your vehicle’s frame and pull you out. And never would one of these good Samaritans accept a dime for their service.
I once got stuck on a back road. In less than ten minutes, a man came by with a team of horses and, “twitched” me out. He wouldn’t accept any money and instead, was only too glad to help.
Back then, April vacation meant seeing two or more bicycles pulled up at every stream crossing. Youngsters loved to fish and this was their week-long opportunity to get out in spring and fish for native brook trout. Today, computers and video games have largely supplanted such endeavors. And instead of seeing school children on their Schwinns, we see adults, mostly clad in brilliantly colored, skin-tight raiment. Kids don’t ride bikes much anymore.
The white perch run was always a huge, community event, even more popular than public suppers. White perch, a tasty fish that finds itself equally at home in fresh or salt water, spawn in spring and typically run up from a lake or pond into some shallow river to spawn.
Best fishing occurred in late afternoon and early evening, which worked out well for working folks. When the run was at its hottest, every bridge and stream crossing saw hoards of anglers, good-naturedly jostling for a place to stand and cast for hungry perch.
It was a carnival-type atmosphere but despite that, I never saw anyone become irritated or mad. It was all just good, clean fun.
I could go on. But there’s really no need to.
None of what I have listed really matters much in the long run. Wishing for things to return to the ways of the past is time misspent. Like the Plains Indians partaking of the Ghost Dance, where they thought if they danced hard and long enough, the buffalo would return and the white man would move away, there is not a single thing we can do to co-opt change.
“Progress,” that’s what they call it.
But as Hank Williams famously said, “Memory is one gift of God that time cannot erase.”
And so I live in the present and have hope for the future, while relishing the past. That, it seems, is a healthy attitude.
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An avid writer and naturalist, Tom writes four regular columns and a multitude of features. He wrote a long running award winning column "Waldo County Outdoors" and a garden column for Courier Publications