Is This Really Progress?

I was musing today about the unstoppable march of “progress.” Well…perhaps progress is the wrong word…how about “the unstoppable march of people”?

I don’t know what the solution is…people need places to live, of course, and if they want to live in a nice place they should be able to…but there’s no denying that when a place is known for its quiet, slow pace and rustic charm…that slow pace and charm are hard to maintain once a few thousand more people descend upon it.

I was thinking about my town today, and feeling kind of melancholy about it.  Not to boast but I live in a pretty idyllic sort of place. Some of you may be city people; lovers of the hustle and bustle that comes with the congested streets of a concrete jungle. That’s not me. Don’t get me wrong, I love to visit.  But for home-life, I need some nature, lots of green landscape, and some semblance of quiet.

The region where I live is both rural and water-oriented.  In the past it was home to family farms and any number of watermen. In fact, there are still some small towns dotting the landscape here and there where families make their living on the water — fishing, crabbing, and harvesting oysters as generations have done before them. But those small towns are described as “quaint” these days instead of “bustling” and are becoming more and more like ghost towns every day.  The family owned farms are mostly shut down—consumed by the much larger corporate farms.

By and large the area used to be slow-paced with plenty of open space. Mom and Pop stores were where you used to go to get whatever home-goods, knick-knacks, or specialty food you needed.  We’ve always had our main “chain” grocery stores (Acme, Food Lion and Safeway), but there were barely any franchise restaurants except for one of each of the staples McDonald’s, Burger King, and Dairy Queen. Besides these three there were only local eateries that served fresh, locally sourced seafood, as well as a couple of “homestyle” restaurants. This was the Eastern Shore and the atmosphere was fantastic.

Years ago, going across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to get to Maryland’s Eastern Shore was no issue; you could make it across and be home in no time.  Except on Friday evenings in the summer.

On the weekends in summer, traffic was a mess because people from the Western Shore just had to get to the beach (it was the only route to Ocean City).  If you were caught on the Western side on a Friday evening, it sometimes could take hours to get home.  But people who lived over here knew that the occasional tourist traffic congestion was a necessary evil, and they felt it was worth it because of the lovely Eastern Shore atmosphere. We adjusted our commuting lives accordingly on those “seasonal weekends.”

Then, somewhere along the way, things changed.

Western Shore people got wise to how great the Eastern Shore was. Eventually, just visiting on weekends wasn’t enough. They wanted to live on the Eastern Shore. So the transition began and they started moving over in droves. Unfortunately, once they got here, they couldn’t do without all those amenities that they were once so anxious to leave behind.

It was okay, apparently, to enjoy the “small town life” when they were just visiting and getting away from the chaos of their own lives. But once they lived here – oh no. They had to have those amenities then!

So in came the strip malls, the nationwide franchise stores, the franchise dime a dozen restaurants, convenience stores on every corner, and out went the locally owned places – driven out because they couldn’t compete.

Up went the sky-high hotels, and houses upon houses upon houses to accommodate the number of people moving here and concrete….concrete everywhere.

And now, now we have traffic every day of the friggin’ week! Instead of expecting hours of traffic on a Friday, we have daily rush hour traffic that takes forever.  And it doesn’t stop at the bridge either. The throng of new inhabitants has caused bumper to bumper traffic all the way down the highway and across the Island.

Now, instead of a placid, rural place, the Eastern Shore has been mutated into a paved extension of the suburban Western Shore with miles and miles of constant development.

And they call this progress. My question is, progress towards what? More noise? More corporations exerting their influence? More congestion? More pollution? If that’s the definition of progress, I just want to state for the record that I liked exactly where I used to be.

City Folk Gone Wild

In case my blog has gone viral and you’re a dedicated follower hanging on my every word whenever you get some free time from your glorious job in Paris (a girl can dream right!?),  I should let you know that I live on the Eastern Shore of the US in a very agricultural environment. No bustling metropolises in sight. Instead, it’s farmland for as far as the eye can see and vast fields of corn, corn, and more corn. My area’s claim to fame:  Silver Queen corn. Please, no autographs yet. Let me get through this blog first.

As you probably know by now, unless you’re new to this insanely popular piece of online literature I’ve been slaving over, I’m sort of into animal rights. Some may call me an animal rights “freak.”  I prefer the term “advocate,” thank you very much.  Hey, someone has to look out for these defenseless creatures; otherwise, humans will just keep on killing.

Whoops, this is about to turn into a rant…. which this is not.   Let me compose myself.  Breathe.  Okay, better.  So… local farmers of recent past generations have sold off part of their farms, most likely just to make ends meet and not lose everything.   That’s why the Eastern Shore is sort of a patchwork of rural farmland with neighboring urban areas and new housing developments popping up at a more rapid rate each year. The wildlife is still all around and all too often humans tend to think the idea of sharing is ridiculous, so we just shoot whatever we don’t want around. A simple solution for the morally void.

Now geese are a problem at planting time for these farmers.  BUT I’m very pleased to say that the farmers here use “goose cannons” to keep roaming (and hungry) Canadian geese off their crops.  It’s something they’ve always done, and it’s such a better solution than filling them full of shotgun shrapnel. The cannons are a stroke of humane genius. They don’t hurt the geese at all; the noise just scares them away.  A dull echoing boom about every 15 minutes and that’s it. It sounds very much like a distant military base testing experimental weaponry (I know because we have one of those too). To be honest, I personally don’t even notice the noise anymore.  Most of the people around here don’t notice the noise…it just becomes part of the background.

So it seems like a nice agreement has been worked out with no violence involved. Case closed. Well, hold on now. In just the past year the new residents in these lovely housing developments have begun complaining to the police about the cannons making too much noise. Their idea of getting away from city life and moving to the country didn’t include these cannons so they’re just going to have to go. The ironic part is the cannons are an integral part of an agricultural area – and an agricultural area is where these complainers wanted to move to.  Not to mention that this is a way of life for the farmers in question…these are not hobby farms.

working farm

working farm — a common sight here

What’s even more ironic – the “city folk” move here to get away from the city. They want to see farms and green and wildlife out their door.  More than likely, they came from a cacophonous location filled with police sirens, ambulances, honking car horns and people galore because they wanted to get away to a rural area in which to raise their kids or simply to have a more low-key, rural existence.    I know that was my purpose for moving here (you see, I’m an urban transplant myself).

But what do a select entitled few do as soon as they get here?  Complain about the fact that it’s an agricultural area with farmland.  Wait…What!?  Did they not realize these are working farms?  Did they not realize that the people on the working farms have to make a living?  Or more importantly, that these working farms were here first?

farmer

loading silver queen corn

The craziest part is that the cannons aren’t exploding 24/7 year round. They’re only switched on during specific planting times. Just suck it up, city folk, and please understand that when you buy into an area, you’re not just buying the structure you’ll live in, but you’re buying the experience. You’re buying the community, the heritage, the customs. I understand wanting to be comfortable in your environment, hence the exodus to the serene rural country, but please understand that some changes, while good for you, can affect another’s life in a big way. Please remember to keep some perspective and realize that a dull, echoing “boom” isn’t the end of the world.

Strangeland

Sometimes I think I live on an alien world; an odd, foreign landscape sculpted by unearthly tides and weather conditions. I don’t think this is a far off thought either. Not that I actually believe I’ve been whisked away a la Wizard of Oz and dropped onto another planet. But if you were to take a look at the wetlands near my neighborhood you might cock your head to the side and see the resemblance to the Riddick movies. I put some pictures below to help strengthen my case.

The wetlands on the Eastern Shore where I live are protected.  There are stretches of wetlands all over the place, some small, some large.  All that’s left of this particular area of wetlands is what you see in these photos…just a very small patch surrounded by farmland. These are not your mom and pop type farms with geese being chased by pigs in the front yard and cows getting milked by some sweet ol’ Meemaw. These are the industrial suckers; farms that grow corn in bulk either to sell to large manufacturers or to grocery store chains.

Pretty bland scenery outside of the wetlands, but this little parcel of protected land more than makes up for it visually on its own. In winter when it’s all iced over or summer when it’s deep into a drought, this bit of wetlands looks like something out of a crazy sci-fi movie. There are incongruous lumps of grass that rise and fall out of the earth and dead trees vaulting up over my head. If I had to sum up the way it looks in one word I’d feel pretty confident going with “bizarre.”  The photos I was able to capture on my cell phone simply don’t do it justice.

Wetlands final 1

wetlands in winter 2

As I mentioned previously, these wetlands are supposed to be protected. While no loggers are in there actively sawing down the trees and no one’s pumping water from the ground or building apartments on the site, I have a sneaking suspicion that runoff from the farms just a stone’s throw away has been seeping into the earth slowly polluting this miniature self-contained biome. It’s obvious that the water is going bad and the trees are dead, which is terribly sad. Although I understand the need for the industrialized farms, how they provide food to many and all, watching the slow decline of a once beautiful and entertainingly unique little spot of land is still quite disheartening. These wetlands were once home to a menagerie of wildlife — bald eagles, herons, cranes, and other beautiful species were frequent visitors. They’re gone now, at least from this place.  I’m sure the poisoned water and the dead trees don’t have the same appeal they once had as a thriving ecosystem. At least I have these pictures to share and look back on when I want to be reminded of my own little piece of alien life here on earth.

Wetlands final 2

wetlands in winter