When in the Country...
© 2006 Ross Williams
The soybean field across the road is growing a bumper crop, and I'm none too pleased. The crop it's growing is Subdivision. I moved to a dirt track to get away from these people, and they're following me. I know better than to think my magnetic personality is attracting them. I also know better than to think it's the smell of my barnyard or the look of my neighbor's scrap iron "art". So it must be something else.
I moved to the country to, like, be in the country. Trees, well water, no sidewalks, no traffic, no light pollution, late-night sounds of coyotes rather than teenagers' car stereo speakers rattling the windows, early morning sounds of roosters and not the grinding gears of delivery trucks, my dogs can run free, I can raise sheep, I can drink a beer on my front porch in the evening naked ... The soybean houses, on the other hand, are all suffering from deed restrictions, the dry-rot of property rights. The country is gone in a puff of self-righteous contract law.
A few things come to mind as I watch 3,000 square foot houses pop up like dandelions. I'm going to complain about the first of them today.
Many of the people destined to be my new neighbors are going to be uber-enlightened idiots. They're going to look at the scrap-iron art in my neighbor's yard, declare it an eyesore, and erect privacy fences. Apart from making it suddenly easier to drink beer naked on my front porch, and the joy of watching these homeowners re-erect their fences after each major thunderstorm and blizzard blows them down, I find little as unequivocally ugly as a privacy fence outside of an urban setting – where privacy doesn't grow on trees. In the country, it does if you let it.
These people are also going to take a whiff of the first north breeze and gag on the smell of my horse shit, sheep shit and – my son's doing 4H and insisted on this – chicken shit. Then I'll be thought a nuisance and, well, it's not like I particularly care what they think, it's just awfully sanctimonious of them to move into my neighborhood and then turn up their nose at what's already there.
We already got a small taste of this last year when I walked my girl scout daughter around the new 'hood to sell cookies. At one of the soybean houses we were asked which house we lived in. When our answer, to be made understandable, was forced to include "...the place with the sheep..." the young housewife turned away, almost imperceptibly curled her lip, and emitted a clipped and snooty "...oh!" I sneered right back.
Don't go pretending you're better than me, toots. I don't have to have white-backed curtains if I don't want them, I can lay a tractor tire out in the front yard, fill it with manure and plant petunias in it if I want, and I'm not the one whose conversion of 2 acres of soybeans into manicured lawn caused the property tax rates in the township to jump 5% in one year. You are literally money out of everyone's pocket. We are paying for your presence, and don't you forget it.
It hasn't happened yet, but this has happened within 50 miles of us: Suburban nitwits move to the peaceful country to get away from suburbia, get offended at the reality of country living and so recreate suburbia in the country, and finally start petitions, and sometimes NIMBY lawsuits, to close down the same peaceful country that they wanted to move to because the country, though peaceful, looks junky and smells shitty. They move to the country and kill it.
"NIMBY", of course, means not in my back yard, and besides the self-righteousness associated with telling others what they can or, most often, cannot do on their own property, there's the inescapable fact that the sheep are shitting in my back yard and not theirs; where the smell goes is – like the smells of diesel exhaust on crowded city streets – up to the wind and is part of the environment. My neighbor, as well, is creating scrap iron art in his own back yard; if you don’t like it, don’t look. Keep your anti-rural demands in town, folks.
What most NIMBY despots are saying is not “not in my back yard”; it is, instead, “not in anyone’s back yard”.
And this is what tends to make some of the more aggravating public hypocrisies of the uber-enlightened imbeciles. Almost half of my pre-subdivision neighbors are outright farmers, small-lot cattle ranchers, bee keepers, summertime vegetable stand operators, eggs sellers, hay field lessors, firewood sellers, christmas tree growers, riding stable operators or just recreational horse owners, or some combination of these … or they used to be. On my road, three of the four are now, or once were, involved in agriculture for fun or profit. And the fourth wants to, but not enough to actually do it.
The scrap iron artist used to run cattle in his back lot that his in-laws now hay for their own cattle. The old couple on the corner who died in the last few years used to own all the land around and farm it; a grandchild is now living there, and he works his father’s farm just down the road. I’ve got horses and sheep. The only holdout is the family to the west of us – and they talk to my horses when they tend their blackberry and grape arbors.
…and the only reason I’m not counting their blackberries and grapes as agriculture is because the birds eat their entire crop. I don’t count my apple trees, either.
Agriculture abounds within 3 miles of my barn, in any direction you care to travel. …except for the 40 acres across the road from me that has been rezoned and subdivided into privacy fenced yards filled with snooty suburbanites trying to kill their new environment. They are making farmland disappear. They are forcing the remaining agricultural land to take on a heavier load per acre. This heavier load requires more chemical fertilizers and herbicides for the nation’s crops, and tighter quarters for the nation’s livestock.
But we all know that chemical fertilizers, herbicides and cramped living conditions for livestock is unacceptable. Although, in a great spasm of cosmic irony, the folks to whom it is the most unacceptable are subdivision-ites, as well as their college-bound children who, through the omniscience bestowed upon them by their upbringing of limitless Nintendo and Pokemon, know all there is to know about how to feed a nation of 300 million by having farmland swallowed up in huge, corporate developer land-grabs and turned into deed-restricted suburban wastelands.
My scrap iron artist neighbor is afraid that the zoning changes occurring no more than a wadded-tissue’s throw from his front door will ooze across the private gravel track that serves as our common “road”. He is afraid that he will be forced to stop welding steel pipes onto old iron drums and making … whatever it is they make when welded together. Since our side of the road is [currently] zoned as agricultural we can do, almost literally, what we want – including making scrap iron art.
A residential zoning would prevent him from doing that, of course. And since zoning board are subject to the same short-sighted political pressures that lead to Patriot Acts, mandatory seat belt laws and the rationalizations of both, it’s only a matter of time before enough of the new subdivision’s mental troglodytes convince the zoning board that, y’know, the township will get a larger tax assessment and more property taxes if only the zoning on both sides of the road was residential…
Scrap iron art doesn’t tend to grandfather well, but livestock does. The artist next door is thinking of refencing and getting more cattle. He’s also thinking of razing his house and getting the hell out of dodge. He’s undecided on the matter, needless to say.
I’m not. The new neighborhood is an invasion. Despite the donations any of them may make to Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund or the Sierra Club, they are all, everyone of them, anti-environmental planet-rapers. They are marching into an environment that is not their own, which has an ecosystem as well as an econo-system firmly established, altering it to suit their own selfish tastes, and thus killing the environment they invaded.
Calling it “progress” doesn’t change the fact that subdivisions with deed restrictions exist for the sole purpose of elevating property values. Not only are they killing their environment, but they are doing so for the basest of purposes: personal greed. It’s one thing for a corporation which employs thousands and makes stuff to spit sulphur dioxide into the air and make the weak atmospheric tea of sulfuric acid in the name of company profit, but it’s another when an individual homeowners’ net worth is derived from killing farmland by the hectare.
Many of them, with the fresh blood of another soybean field dripping from the jaws of their hedge trimmers, will then turn around and scold the remaining soybean farmers to grow more soybeans on less land without using the fertilizers and herbicides which pollute the subdivision’s lawns. Environmental murder combines with self-righteous sermonizing to form the pseudo-environmental hypocrisy which dominates so many land-use discussions these days.
Well, folks, not in my back yard. If you move to the country you’d better like the country just the way it is. If you don’t, either remain silent or move back to town.