Monday, March 12, 2007

Not Gone With The Wind. Just Gone.

They say you can't go home again, but sometimes you REALLY can't go home again. I spent a sleepless night looking at various satellite pics of places I used to live. I had heard from my stepmom that our old house had been demolished and the land flattened, but it didn't hit home until I saw the aerial views, before and after.


It is all gone.

My family hasn't lived there for more than a decade, but somehow you imagine it doesn't change all that much when land changes hands. But it can.

My Dad moved in there when I was 7 or 8, after my parents divorced and he married my stepmother. In the nearly twenty years that followed, I grew to love that land as I grew to love my new family. It happened slowly. I never realized that I attached to land until I owned my own, in Massachusetts. But to this day, what I miss most about my time in Massachusetts are my friends who are still there, and my land that I no longer own. I had four acres of woods with a modest house. I didn't do much to the house, but I put a lot of myself into that land. I knew every tree, every rock, every hill. Planted all kinds of things, cut trails through my woods, set up several nice seating areas within the woods and buried not a few beloved pets there. Even the layout was similar to my childhood experience. My four acres were arranged in a long, narrow rectangle, with a house near the front and wilderness in the back.

The photo above shows the property before the destruction, looking much the same as when we lived there. The two houses you see to the right of center were ours, and we had 16 acres in a long narrow parcel bordered roughly by the horizontal lines of trees you can see (the ballfield wasn't there when I lived there, and that land was our neighbor's pasture; I was riding over there the day I had my worst fall - my horse was cantering and stepped in a hole; I fell off and he fell on top of me - owww; but nothing broken for either of us, just a lot of big purple bruises). My Dad and stepmother lived in the lower house and her mother used to live in the upper one. Later, after Grandma died, my sister lived in Grandma's house. Much later, when I was in grad school, I lived there too. There were always canned vegetables and pickles in the cellar at Grandma's house (that's what we always called it, even after she was gone). And a little cement walkway between the back doors connected the two homes. When I lived next door during grad school, I showed up at mealtimes quite frequently, hungry for some home cooking.

I've lived in both houses, but it is the utter and complete destruction of the land that breaks my heart. The back part of the land was pasture and we had horses. There was a creek back there, a few copses of trees, a ramshackle old stable and barn, and lots of trails. Those trails were still there when I looked at the photo on high magnification. The exact same ones I knew as a kid. I knew them all so well. I rode back there, and played there on foot. Daffodils grew wild near the back of the pasture. There was a garden behind the house and some peach trees. The garden had everything. We kids even got to plant some stuff of our own. Even the horses had some space - we grew sugar cane as a treat for them. As kids, my brother and I would play in the compost pile (all leaves, no kitchen debris, so not gross) to stir it up. A huge southern magnolia in the back yard was so much fun to climb. Rode bikes and horses all over, and a go-kart too, and lets not forget all those trips with the riding lawnmower. It would have been perfect for a mountain bike, but we had never heard of such a thing back then. There was the "new barn" that my Dad built. It was fancy. Had a garage door and everything! Housed his tractor and a lifetime's worth of garden tools. Grandma's red maple tree was a blaze of color in the fall. Every year we had live Christmas trees with the root balls, and Dad would plant them afterward. We lost a few to the hot Georgia summers, but the ones that lasted ended up majestically large. There were crabapple trees in the front yard and sometimes we would see deer eating from them. Our cats found it a great hunting ground. You get to know a place after so many years of playing, riding, horsing around, raking, grass-cutting, weeding, daydreaming, and relaxing in and around it. In my mind it still exists, as good as it ever was (and probably better).

The next picture shows what has become of the houses and the land. Razed to dust, leaving no trace of what it once was. And not just our old place, but the neighbors' also. All of it... just gone. The houses were up on a hill. Even the hill and rocks and trees are gone. Not a blade of grass left. Nothing. It is totally flat red clay now. I suppose they will build a subdivision or an apartment complex. Whatever they put in won't have even one percent of the character of the land that was destroyed in the name of progress.

It makes me sad that everything that was built and nurtured there has vanished from the earth. The houses. The trees that were planted by people I love. The irises. The daffodils. The Japanese maple. The big crepe myrtle. The glorious southern magnolia. The ancient peach trees that still bore fruit. The trails that our horses wore into the ground. The barn that Dad built, and the garden. The graves of our pets. All for nothing. All gone.

It makes me think of that James Taylor song, Copperline. It's a good song, and fits this situation well. Last verse:

I tried to go back, as if I could
All spec house and plywood
Tore up and tore up good
Down on copperline
It doesn't come as a surprise to me
It doesn't touch my memory
Man I'm lifting up and rising free
Down on over copperline


LL said...

Progress is a helluva thing.

Kathleen said...

That so sucks. I HATE and DESPISE this mindset of cutting away all the greenery for "progress." There are plenty of houses in the olders suburbs, we don't need to raze everything green just to put up more houses. It disgusts me.

Your childhood sounds so cool.

trinamick said...

Wow. That's depressing. I felt the same way when new people moved onto my grandpa's old place and tore everything down. They built a huge monstrosity of a house that mocks the nature around it.

Dave said...

Great descriptions. Great writing.

wa11z said...

Here's a virtual hug for you. I had a similar experience when I visited my hometown about six years ago and the High School baseball field that I played on for four years had been torn down and replaced in the name of progress. It was old and probably needed to go, but I wish I had known beforehand so I could've visited it one last time.

Beth said...

I live on 7 wooded acres and I am painstakingly changing ever acre ... putting in trails, seating, rock walls, the list is endless. I keep saying long after I'm gone, this will still be here. I see those pics and it sickens me. I can't imagine it. It's just terrible.

I'm not a tree hugger. I just love them and nature in general. I can't get it when people don't understand the importance in conservation, in the past, and memories.

Sending hug vibes to you.

TheWriteGirl said...

Weird how attached we get to places, isn't it? I moved from Massachusetts when I was 20, which is, well, more than 20 years ago. But I still get a strange feeling when I go back to visit. Like part of me is still there.

tiff said...

Thsi kind of thing should be criminalized. Progress can and should occur, but not to the extent of utter destruction of what came before.

Down here in the Triangle we see this kind of things all the time. That's one reason why I bought a 100-year-old house. I'm not stepping all over someone's former backyard, you know?

fermicat said...

tiff - The 100 year old house sounds so great. These houses weren't that old, but it still sucks that the entire landscape was laid bare.