I spent Saturday afternoon snowshoeing through the woods. There were about two feet of snow on the ground. Snow covered the pine trees, bending some of the slender young ones in arcs. There was a creek that was mostly frozen. Tracks of rabbits, foxes, and deer traced eloquent paths. There were two concave circles in the snow where some deer had slept. When I stopped to listen, it was utterly quiet. I could only hear the wind stirring in the pines, snow drifting almost imperceptibly, my own breath.
This was just 50 miles from Boston, an hour’s drive. Massachusetts is one of the most densely populated states in the U.S. But we are lucky to have undeveloped tracts, places where animals roam and we can walk outside and see the trees, hear the silence. Massachusetts has organizations like the Trustees of the Reservations that care deeply about preserving our natural places, organizations that do almost unbelievable work toward conserving places of beauty.
And yet. Not far from where I walked in the woods, there’s a piece of land closer to the local highway. It used to have a meadow filled with wildflowers, a small clear pond, and an old red house. The house was there from the days when this area was still mostly farmland. The house and pond stood far back from the road, so you had to gaze across all the wildflowers and Queen Anne’s lace to see them. I always liked to imagine the people who lived in this house, and how it must have felt to live in such a beautiful meadow.
But the road was getting busier. The house felt somehow doomed, as though its proximity to such an increasingly popular road would be its downfall.
I was right. Now the house is gone; the pond is surrounded by concrete pavement. A mall has sprung up where the meadow used to be, with a TGI Friday’s, a Michael’s, and Best Buy. This mall has expanded across the road and is now spreading slowly down both sides of the street, like a growing tumor. The lights from this mall blaze late into the evening hours, creating a dome of hazy brightness that blots out the stars.
In the woods I felt afraid for my beauty, my silence. What will become of these pine trees, this creek, this unbroken white snow? In twenty years, will there be a Wal-Mart? Perhaps a McDonald’s, or a parking lot? For surely these things are more worthwhile, more profitable, than a simple stand of woods.