Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Flying Backwards East

From the air, landscapes assume character larger than is apparent at ground level. East of the Mississippi, luxuriant, deciduous growth once covered the entire surface, broken only by coursing and meandering rivers, and puddled with countless lakes. When the farmers came from further East, they carefully trimmed and shaved the swaths of trees. Vast tracts of indigenous trees slowly gave way to farms as the settlers moved westward. Slaves and freemen clear-cut the forests and made the land farm-ready.

From the air, it's easier to see where whole groves of trees were left standing, usually covering non-arable land such as mountains and hills. The trees remaining survived as second or third growth native species, mostly confined to hills and river bottoms. Diligent fingers and machines kept the trees in check for generations. 

Later on, urban and especially suburban growth supplanted the farms and competed for topographical dominance -- especially around cities. New types of trees encroached, commingling with native species. Of course some people wanted to live in the woodland forests too, but those enclaves were always either exclusive and more expensive to construct, or were too poor to make much impact.

Flying low into Dulles airport recently, I noticed how some landscape was reverting back to trees. From the air, I distinguished not just forest from farms, but working farmland from fallow land. Here and there I could also see multi-acre spreads, some with newer homes planted in the middle and surrounded by acres of buffer land. I could tell that this land had once been plowed. I say that the land was receding back to forest because a farmer would never let stray trees sprout in a field. The lands surrounding these mansionettes were dotted with clumps of new old growth -- some of it deliberate to be sure-- but some looking like a slow reseeding of the land.

1 comment:

  1. I think that there is a new environmental consciousness that's taken hold over the past twenty years or so. I hope so - at any rate. Perhaps it's best defined as 'respect' for the land. It's not isolated either. We can find a legion of exceptions, but those who show a gentle respect for the land need to be saluted.