I spent the greater part of this week being sucked into a vortex of politics and frustration. It turns out that, because of money concerns, the beautiful country road on which I live (Hemlock Point Road in Russell) has been handed over by local township government into the care of our county. Shortly after the road transferred, Geauga County--seeking federal dollars for road maintenance that require certain road standards--decided to greatly widen the road, a project that will intrude on the properties of over 40 homeowners and threatens to vastly change the rural character of our lives. Why is this being done? The reasons given include: safety (although our road has been extremely safe) and modernization (although none of the residents on the road want a change). Since our street is used as a cut-through to nearby Chagrin Falls by many locals, the widening would attract even more traffic and higher speeds in addition to a likely destruction of trees, treelawns and fences. But the county has an answer for everything: studies which show that bigger roads with higher speeds have fewer accidents, for example, and traffic counts which suggest far higher traffic volumes than those of us who live on the road observe.
Despite the fact that the final road project is not yet drawn out, the county has come through our road and pulled down dozens upon dozens of large trees. The reason? There is an endangered Indiana bat which nests in certain trees in our area and which wil be returning soon. Once the bats nest, the county is prohibited from destroying their habitat. So--the reasoning goes--- all of the trees have to be pulled down now, because by the time the road project is ready to go, the bats will be in residence. In other words, the bats must be protected, but it's ok to destroy their habitat in advance of their return! I have personally been fighting a battle to save a large maple that sits right in my fence line and is a favorite home for bluebirds. At the same time, I have been sucked into a much larger fight to oppose this project along with the rest of a very angry neighborhood. Stay tuned for much more from Hemlock Point Road.
Our street is just one battlefield that reflects a much larger question. What kind of change do we want to bring to our world? Those who live in rural areas recognize that they accept certain risks. They do this in order to live in less tame environments. We all know that a tree can fall on our car when we drive down a road in the wind, for example. Should we cut them all down? We can slide off a twisting country road in the ice. Should they all be made as straight as a ruler? What do we lose when we do these things? And when we make change without regard to timeless values, changes that are made in the name of "greater", "more" and "faster"---do the results make us happier or safer?
In this week's New York Times, Nicholas Kristof writes depressingly about something we already suspect: even food that we regard as safe probably isn't. Analysis of the feathers of chickens raised in large farming operations reveals that these birds have eaten things like tylenol, benadryl, prozac and arsenic. Traces of these compounds still remain and we are undoubtedly consuming them. Why were the chickens fed these things? In the name of progress and production. To calm them down. To make them grow. To produce more chicken. At the same time as I am entreating patients to eat a primarian diet full of fresh produce, lean animal proteins and the like, I find that I am compelled to issue a warning. Even food isn't food anymore. Our food supply has become unrecognizable and in many cases, unsafe. Are your vegetables full of pest-killers? Is your meat fattened with grain and fed hormones? Are your chickens laced with arsenic? It falls to each of us to try to decipher which food is cleanest and safest and that is no mean feat.
I am no Luddite and I appreciate the benefits of modern living as much as the next guy. After all, what would life be without Dancing with the Stars? But it seems to me that one of the central questions of the 21st century is whether humans beings can learn to be judicious, wise and responsible with the enormous technological advances and opportunities that are now part of our daily experience. Will we radiate all our food just because we can? Will we drop the bomb simply because we have it? Will we implant ourselves with direct links to the internet and turn ourselves into the Borg? For those to whom much has been given, much is expected. That includes using our heads about the central experiences of life that we want to preserve. Food. Air. Environment. Lifestyle. And the essential elements of humanity.