Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Place You Love is Gone

I really wanted to love The Place You Love is Gone by Melissa Holbrook Pierson. Unfortunately, her often-obtuse writing style makes for a difficult read, but it did get me thinking about my hometown.

Marietta, Georgia is one of Atlanta’s largest suburbs. The Marietta I knew growing up is not the Marietta that exists today. The population grew by 40% during my childhood and continues to grow. Two lane roads are now highways.

I often think of the farms that disappeared before my very eyes, replaced by sterile subdivisions. Clearcuts were a common sight, stark because of the red clay soil. Most of the people that live in Marietta now were born somewhere else, they aren’t losing anything.

But then I remember that my family was alien too. They moved to Marietta from Miami before I was born. The house I grew up in was built to house Lockheed workers in the fifties. Presumably, it too displaced a forest or a farm.

Yesterday a Navajo professor spoke to one of my classes. I asked him about the problem of making people care in this age of displacement. Talk about coal mines tearing people from their homes is less effective when very few people seem to have a true home that they love and care about. The professor pondered and then said : indigenization.

It’s the concept of making people local again. Thinking about it, the local food movement is an indigenization movement and a very powerful one at that. I think about the huge differences in farmers markets across the state. Evanston has wild plums and purslane, but Urbana has farmstead goat cheese and fresh ripe blackberries. Each place has unique foods that you can’t get elsewhere.

In terms of where I grew up, my neighborhood was old enough that nature had reclaimed parts of it. Neglected lawns sprouted with wild strawberries, blueberries, and onions. Honeysuckle crept over fences. Snapping turtles made their homes in ditches. In the case of my neighborhood this was largely an unconscious encroachment, resisted by certain residents who religiously applied sod and pesticides.

But I wonder if this sort of thing could become a conscious movement to live in a locality instead of adapting a locality to the American Lawn Ideal. Edible Estates and similar Food Not Lawns and Backyard Habitat projects are a good example of this. The resistance comes from people who never question the tyranny of the grass monocultures they so assiduously cultivate.

A problem, I think, is schooling. I went to a school that focused on nature and then I was homeschooled, so I spent a lot of time experiencing native Georgia. My memories of home are microcosmic—of tiny tree sprouts, dew drops on spider webs, and bumblebees on marigolds. Unfortunately, this is unusual. I worked at a school camp one summer and their play grounds consisted of cement, woodchips, and a mowed lawn. No wonder no one in the area was bothered by industrially uniform green lawns.

Last night I remembered the wild onions, the way they smelled when you pulled them from the red clay in early spring. I remember that this was in the suburbs, that we shouldn’t give up when a farm is torn down to make room for houses, because anywhere there is soil, plants are eager to be welcomed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I sometimes mourn what we're losing, too. I grew up in a small city in the middle of dairy country in upstate New York. Here are things I remember from my childhood that I doubt a child today would experience due to "safety" or "liability" issues or just plain misplaced emphasis on convenience:

- a kindergarten field trip to a dairy farm where we drank milk straight from the cow
- another day in kindergarten when our teacher showed us, on a hot plate, how applesauce was made
- going to "the milk store" with the empty glass bottle to trade in for a full one

I'm not that old - this was in the 70s. My husband, who is the same age as I am, grew up in the suburbs and remembers none of this. It's like we dismantled this stuff a little at a time ...