The View From the Other Side
By Tom Neale, 9/6/2013
Several days ago we idled very slowly along one of my favorite rivers. I first knew it around 55 years ago. I had come there in an old wooden skiff that I'd "remodeled" to give it a cabin where I could sleep. I was exploring. This day I was in my old Mako, still exploring, but over familiar yet vastly changed waters. On the shores of the rivers when I first came here were mostly beautiful green trees. Behind the trees there were more trees and farmland. Here and there I could see from the river a farm field, and even less here and there I could see a farm house peeping out from a forest.
Today it seems that most of what you see is houses. Big pretentious houses. Many of them have guest houses and pool houses. Many have sweeping lawns. Yes, there are still woods and there is still farmland. The river is still beautiful. But it isn't anywhere near what it was before. It's another world altogether, although vestiges of that long ago world still push through, sometimes furtively, sometimes with vigor. I know that very few things are as they were years ago. Like it or not, we're all a part of that fact. But this river, like so many other rivers, like so many other places, is one example of where we perhaps could have done better.
You can't blame people for wanting to live in a place like this. To me, and to many others, it's paradise. You can't blame them for wanting to have that ultimate realm: a view. I mean, if you can't see it, is it there? If the tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, did it really fall? There's nothing new or unique about this line of human thought. So what do most people do to get their "view?" Some build houses with more rooms than they and all their next several generations could use, even if by some quirk of fortune they were all gathered together at the same time. They build them taller than the trees. And then they cut down the trees so that they can have their "view" from the front veranda ... .without having to get up out of their lounge chairs. Some also cut the trees because they want to be sure that others can see and admire their monuments to themselves. And so the trees are gone and the whole complexion of the river changes. Banks cave in. Dirt washes in. Wind sweeps over the waters unchecked, where before it was buffered. Even yards and occasionally parts of mansions sometimes crumble down toward the river. And the view is entirely different. They even call it differently. They call it the "Rivah" in some self perceived cute emulation of an imagined way of life that they never knew, the vestiges of which they helped to destroy. Ironically, the first who did this had a wonderful view across the river to the tree lined shores on the other side. But then others came and dared to do the same thing. So they each sit now and look out over their manicured lawns not at the view that they came and conquered to see, not at the remote river with the green of the trees on the shore, but at the view of their neighbors across the rivers. Poetic justice reigns supreme.
Tom's Tips About Our Wakes
1. Some talk about leaving clean wakes, which is good. But it's also important to leave gentle or no wakes when we can.
Some have done much better. They haven't cut the trees and you have to carefully focus your gaze through the woods to see their homes safely tucked away. And when you visit those homes you realize that, behold! Because of the way trees and banks are, they can see the river anyway, even though they haven't razed their banks. They know what the Native Americans knew long ago. Standing outside the forest it's hard to tell what's inside. But from inside, you can usually have a pretty good view out. These folks enjoy the view, and the world that they grew to love, without ruining it for others.
I have to carefully watch my words here, because I'm familiar with the selfish attitude that some of us display. And I don't mean that. It is: "I got here first, and I bought my little piece of dirt, and I cleared the land and cut down my trees so that I could have a view and see "the river." Now you stay away. You can't do what I did ... ." You hear comments like this at public meetings, you read them in letters to the editor, you hear them at public gatherings. This attitude doesn't work either. Our population is growing, not diminishing. And "He who is without sin throw the first stone ... "
But I can't help expressing myself. I was raised in these parts hereabouts, as were many of you where you live. We're still moving about on our large boat much of the time. But a few years ago we built a house so we'd have a place when we need it. Age marches on and bodies grow less agile. The house is small, but more than big enough for us. The land that we bought, around 35 years ago, had been farm land with the banks crowded with trees and other vegetation. We didn't let the builders cut the trees on the banks, or many others. And so now, when you look at our house from the water, you really can't see that it's even there ... unless you look very hard. Yes, I probably sound self lauding and pretentious here, but that's not the way I mean it. Whether it's on a yacht, a center console, a canoe or from a house, there are ways that we can enjoy the water, without ruining it for everybody else and those to come. This isn't to say that the entire population can harmlessly have "access" to the water, a catch-phrase that enjoys so much political popularity these days. There simply isn't enough coast and there are too many people. And, truth be told, many of those people would prefer "access" to other areas of beauty. But there are ways that we can all share whatever natural beauty we love, without so much harm. When you step back and look at it from a broad view, there isn't much earth left to ruin. But when you step back further and look at the up-close photos of the surface of the Moon and Mars, you're strongly reminded that it's a great place we live in.
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