Dispatches from Suburbia

I took a walk through my subdivision yesterday. Birds roosted and cooed from the roofs of newly-constructed homes. I wonder what rolling meadows were mowed down to erect these haughty structures. I am but a man, but I too am dwarfed in the shadow of these mighty dwellings. The birds still peck at the ground, but there is precious little provision in the stubbly grass. I marvel at their numbers and the bravery of their songs. I try to imagine how many more once flew and gathered here. The air must have been bursting with a thousand jubilant cries.

To be fair, there yet remain a few, forgotten strips of the past. Here and there, isolated acreage that shakes and shudders and trembles in the wind. These places are dwindling fast, marked by their own doom. 4.6 acres for development. Land development opportunities abound. What kind of world have we developed? To be certain, the birds will keep flying and the rodents will keep scampering, but we will see marked demographic differences. We already see it in our cities. Songbirds, wrens, ducks, geese, partridges, grouse, woodpeckers, chickadees, owls, warblers are all but distant memories. Minks, weasels, stoats, ermines, shrews, bobcats, lions, bears, wolves, coyotes, foxes, buffalo have all been flushed from their ancestral homes. What we are left with are the omnivorous, ravenous reflections of ourselves. Our new bedfellows are repulsive, mangy vectors of disease. Pigeons, crows, cockroaches, and rats present the parables of the modern age. They espouse no particular virtues. They are not picky. They will gladly gobble the scraps we toss out. I cannot help but wonder what else we have lost with the disappearance of our old companions, those forgotten animals who once featured in the fables that taught us life lessons?

Imagine now a meadow of swaying, singing prairie grasses. Wildflowers bloom and paint the landscape with purples, reds, pinks, and yellows. Birds of many kinds thrill and trill in the rushes. They hatch, they are fed, they learn to fly, they find food, they seek shelter, they dance, they find their mates, they gather twigs, they build nests, they lay eggs, they raise their young, they preen themselves, they soar and dip, they sing. The birds have returned! They build their homes in the dead trees we tear down. They hide in the cover of shrubs we call weeds. They raise their chicks on the grubs we call pests.

The strong, strapping indigenous plants we dismiss as weeds are benevolent, smiling, generous. They stand with their hands outstretched. They gladly bend their bounteous boughs and proffer their berries to the birds. Butterflies and bees sip from their flowers until they’re drunk and dizzy with nectar. Larvae and caterpillars inch and munch their precious leaves. They swell with seeds and nuts and grains which burst and scatter their delicious morsels. They do not mind that bits of their bodies are sliced and carved to feed the hungry.

These are the hamlets and homes we thoughtlessly plundered. We unmuzzled the warhounds we’d nursed with bottles of gasoline. The cavalry of the earth-eaters thundered forth into virgin meadows. Rumbling roars resonated through the prairies. Gnash on and chew, you jaws of progress and development! Go forth and mutilate, uproot, dismember! Birds and rodents have been made refugees, displaced by our desires to reshape the earth. The land stands sacked. We stand smug over the conquests cowering at our feet. We slaughter and set fires. We rape and impregnate the despoiled land. Their tilth is fertile ground for the seeds of a new kind of army.

We stand as proud commanders of a revolutionary force. We have triumphed over nature itself. We are victorious. Our efforts are informed by visions of rows upon rows of emerald green Bermuda grass cropped close in military uniform. There is no room for dissent or diversity in this sea of order. The blades snap to attention. We stand panting and wipe the sweat from our brows. We have shaped and pruned their ranks with the labor of our hands. Their rations are petroleum-based fertilizers and steady doses of chemical inoculants, designed to keep the pests away. The pests starve, and the things that eat them are forced from their homes. This sewage seeps into the wells, poisoning the water for generations. With a final, delirious application of pesticides, we have defeated the chaos of the unruly wild.

I can only weep for the poor, cast-off creatures and plants and people we consigned to obsolescence in the holy name of Progress.






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