It happens everywhere and I have seen it in too many places to simply stick with one so I’ll make a list (in no way comprehensive):
- The field across from my uncle’s farm being subdivided
- the remnant patch of forest surrounded on one side by a strip mall anchored by Giant Eagle, and by subdivisions on the other
- the overgrown field adjacent to Metzger Park in Westerville, OH, long untouched by a plow, finally being razed and graded for more subdivision development
- the vacant plot peppered with locust and linden trees north of the Yarnell family farm along Africa Road being sold off to developers and made a future site for a high-rise
All of these situations involve the inevitable incorporation of unincorporated land into the growing sprawl of a metro area. Three of them deal with the development in the part of Metro Columbus’ outer rim with which I am most familiar. They all have to do with property rights and the struggle that aging farmers encounter when none of their children feel up to taking on the property, and when the tight profit margins start to take their toll. None of those places I mentioned are particularly wild or spectacularly natural in their own right. However, their development represents the extinguishing of any sizable green space within a few miles of their vicinity. In the case of the wood by the Giant Eagle, it was surrounded on three sides by development, connected to the rest of its owner’s property by a narrow strip of grassy hill.
Here at this wood, or next to it, was a bus stop. In high school until I got a car and was recruited into that carbon-spewing horde of one-person commuters, I rode the bus. My bus-buddy got off at this stop by the woods, because he lived in a little house shaded by the trees at the edge of the property. I never went out to explore those woods but he would tell me about them sometimes. They weren’t like Johnson’s woods, but there were some sizable oaks and maples, at least from what I could see. Those woods became an integral, given part of the background for me– I would always sit on the same side of the bus so I could see them when we drove past. Eventually I got used to them and would pay them little more than a glance most of the time until one day, I looked up, and saw the carnage of 20 acres of hardwood forest crudely razed to the ground. It was a mellow spring day with traces of winter lingering in the air, and the hopeful, bright green of the new growth peeking out across the land. Many of the leaves on the trees were still the size of a mouse’s ear, or a grain of corn. Trunks were toppled onto each other, hacked off from the ground at different heights. Their crowns, naked but for the faintest green stubble (almost like velvet on a buck’s antlers), were tangled into each other. I only had a few moments to take in the scene before I was driven away. I closed my eyes and could still picture it. No one else on the bus even noticed.
Many months later I had joined the school play, a spring production of “Big Fish”, a musical. It centered around a son whose father’s words were a seamless flow of stories of his youth in a Southern town called Ashton. The picture of Ashton drawn by this father was colored by nostalgia and fondness, but it was nevertheless quite a place to live. The development that came to replace that forest by Giant Eagle was called “Ashton”. The houses were stately and asked a hefty three-hundred thousand dollars for their titles. I passed it sometimes whenever I needed to go to Giant Eagle. Whenever I think of Big Fish, I think of that forest, and whenever I see that development I think of Big Fish. I never went into that forest, and the son never went to Ashton. I’m as sick of that development as that son is of Ashton.