My brother, Peter, lives in a bucolic farming community outside Washington, DC, where the unpaved roads are best driven in pickup trucks, and red fox are commonplace. When the bird feeders aren’t locked up at day’s end, a bear is likely to saunter down from the hills at night, and go through the birdseed like cocktail peanuts. Animals dominant this area of Virginia.
Meadow and pastures, corralled by stone walls and cattle fence, line the dusty roads. All is quiet except for the occasional vehicle stirring up a trail of dust that settles on the wildflowers luffing in the sudden gust along the lane.
He bought his small tract of land ten years ago and is, in his own way reforesting it, fevered by his passion for collecting and growing trees. You would be hard pressed to think of a tree he hasn’t planted yet. Some of his successes began as minuscule whippets that The Arbor Day Foundation sent out free with membership. He nurtures them along in his vegetable garden until they’re robust enough to move into his ‘arboretum.’ He harvests baskets full of apples, peaches and quince (which he has yet to figure out what to do with), as well as black walnuts with nearly impenetrable shells.
Solar panels soak up the power from the sun to fuel his home, while a wood stove with a copper flue, like an old-time radiator, keeps the place toasty on a winter day. The TV is in a small cabin nearby – just far enough away that he is able to avoid the monotony of the CNN newsfeed.
Mice and other rodents are a prolific part of the farming community. A couple years ago, he had to call a garage to come and repair his car. Mice had made a cozy home near its engine and chewed through the wiring harness. After paying the garage a steep fee to replace the wire, he called the Humane Society to adopt a cat. Now he has three feral cats culling the varmint herd He keeps the cats beholden to him by rewarding them with gourmet cat food from Trader Joe’s.
Nick, my brother from California, recently visited to put the finishing touches on a small cabin he built next door to Peter’s. When we were growing up, my Dad had the hope that we would each build a home for our families on land surrounding our childhood home in Vermont. When Dad came into hard times years later, he sold our place, which was a disappointment for all of us. Now, in a way, Peter is making good on Dad’s plan, at least for Nick.
Vineyards and hops farms seem to be Virginia’s new generation dairy farmers. They are a popular destination for city dwellers to soak up the country vibe while mellowing out with a local brew. Many discover the simple appeal of grass beneath their feet, and the charm of a cow mooing from a nearby meadow.
Recently, I’ve noticed the quaint little town, with barely a traffic light, has begun to spread out a bit. A field is sold and becomes a new neighborhood, and then spawns more building, and then schools and grocery stores; and eventually the city of DC is spending billions of dollars on a new mass transit system to alleviate the congestion on the arteries ferrying commuters into the city from the suburbs.
The towns are creeping closer to one another while creeping closer to my brother’s bucolic homestead and personal arboretum. Bucolic could be in trouble.
He and his kin are feisty environmentalists who will fight to keep this area protected from development. Thomas Friedman, in his Op-Ed piece in the New York Times September 7th, mentions E.O. Wilson’s new book, Half- Earth, in which Wilson argues the necessity of committing half of our planet to nature, in order to protect the health of the planet, and ourselves.
We need another president like Teddy Roosevelt with a passion and commitment to preserving our open land.
We all need to find a place of peace and quiet to maintain our health in this uncertain, conflict-driven world.