By Nate Winkler
“I thought as I sat there of the ancient admonition “Be still and know that I am God” and knew that without stillness there can be no knowing, without divorcement from outside influences man cannot know what spirit means.”
In the 1920’s, Sigurd Olson was compelled to write this after sitting on a point of land, a “listening point” if you will, in Ontario to which he had canoed to watch the sun set.
Unless you just got off the boat here in northwest Lower Michigan (or you simply don’t care), you’ve probably noticed that places to engage in the quiet contemplation that Sig endorsed are getting harder and harder to find.
Recent media releases have trumpeted the projection of a population growth increase in the region. Ironically a recent editorial in this particular paper was situated adjacent to a letter to the editor regarding fracking. Ironic to me because next to the specter of Alberta tar sands being pumped under the Straits of Mackinac, depletion of groundwater for fracking, and global warming, population growth and the attendant development, is the fourth horseman of the apocalypse that will doom the quality of life here. Now, if this growth were limited to population centers and homesteads on acreage throughout the countryside, I’d not be so morose.
But as we all have seen, growth in northwest Lower Michigan means the ever-tightening noose of subdivisions, strip malls, second or third (maybe fourth?) homes serving as vacant getaway cottages, and absentee owner trophy homes dominating ridgelines, lakeshores and riverbanks. It can be more than a little unnerving when traveling about to see what resembles the outer rings of hell which are the soul-robbing suburbs of Detroit and Grand Rapids — right here in the north country.
The intrinsic values of the wild spaces that kept many of us here after childhood or brought some from other places are diminished with each passing construction season. There are incalculable values provided by wild spaces; quiet places to recreate and roam, soul renewing vistas uncluttered and unpeopled — in effect the places where our racial memory can be awakened.
What has come is a rural/suburban bastardization that leaves a tarry smear across the landscape — and in effect, any public and privately conserved lands where one could hope to find their own “listening point” becomes the de-facto green space of these numerous and sundry sprawling developments.
Regrettably, growth is advertised by the Axis of Irreverence (realtors, land developers, and township zoning boards) as an economic windfall while oil spills, climate change, and groundwater depletion are monsters that really are hiding under the bed.
About the author: Nate Winkler is a biologist living and working in Traverse City; he holds a bachelor’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Management from Lake Superior State University.
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