Saturday, July 9, 2011

Rural Politics and the Spring Runoff

In my parents' silver Sequoia, aptly named for its stocky presence, we clap mosquitos between our palms, a kind of somber applause. My mom, dad, and I are driving toward two large, vinyl, geodesic structures that sit visibly on a shrub-covered hill that rolls between Dry Creek in Bloomington, Idaho, and Worm Creek on the St. Charles side. The property my parents own in Bloomington looks well tended-to, courtesy of new mowing blades on the tractor and the morning we spent working with the raspberries. The structures on the hill, the ones we're driving toward, are pale green. They blend well with the vegetation up close, but they reflect sunlight so vividly as to glare bright white from the highway. This seems opposite, to me. In the country, a building should inhabit its space closely, the way a wooden barn sinks into the dull yellow of a field of timothy grasses, (I'm just now learning to inhabit my own apartment this way, with this closeness); and if a building is to appear impressive, should impose itself only in intimacy.

These buildings are the remnants of an ill-fated developer's dream -- abandoned plans for a ski resort, spa, & lodge with private cabins nearby and transportation provided from a co-owned lakeside paradise fitted with a Venetian-style canal system just a few miles south. Garden City was booming, indeed, to play host to such a vision. That was before the economy turned. Now the bank owns all this property, and though this particular development lives on only in realtors' pamphlets, as long as this acreage is wrapped up in the business of profit-turning, banks and developers, growth and flux, this land will never be agricultural again. Everyone in Bloomington and St. Charles waits nervously for news of its sale. In the mean time, my parents and I kick our shoes against the exposed foundational concrete of this building and all its lost hope, its whisper of cheap promise and its broken wooden framing. The buildings aren't even a year abandoned, but the animals are already moving back in. The vinyl is torn, a hole near the ground and one up on top. My dad tries the doors, and one around the back opens hard, frightening a family of magpies.

"The young people raised out here don't want to ranch or farm, so the only thing that the older generation can give their kids is land to sell." My dad and I work out our misplaced malaise in conversation, which comes easy. He puts it well, "The older generation hates to see these developments, but it raises their property values, and that's become an inter-generational priority." It's hard to protect land when the livelihood of your children depends on you looking the other way, out toward the lake, to avoid the glare of the domes on the hill, beacons of the future. The people who live here here exemplify a cognitive dissonance felt throughout rural Utah & the small towns of the American west. Their love of the land makes them cringe at the sight of these bourgeois settlements, dreamed up and inhabited by rich people from the city, but their conservative politics scorn any regulation of economic growth and development, even zoning and planning; and there is the matter of their kids. The city creeps up around them in both space and time.

We climb back into the SUV (the car saw our family of five through so much time up here, time spent close to each other, but now with just the three of us, I see only its imposition), and drive out past the vinyl, up the hill to an overturned watchtower, perhaps built to show prospective homeowners what the view would look like from their second-story balconies. In the valley below us, a large swath of land has been clear-cut for an imaginary golf course, right up against the property line of an ancient one-room cabin, firewood stacked high on the porch, paint chipping in chunks from the siding. It's really very beautiful, the yellow-green of the planted grass next to the blue-green pine forest. I try not to be upset about the change I can feel, standing here. It is steadily coming, if momentarily delayed, bubbling up from the two creeks, both flowing into the same lake. I feel somehow responsible, and guilty. I am by default a force for the city. We are all forces for an uncertain future. The west is, and always will be, a land of change. 

There are wildflowers everywhere, red indian paintbrush and tiny white daisies. My hands share this palette, white from dehydration, red from the blood of a mosquito, yellow from the flower I picked to press in my sketchbook. The lake is higher than it's been since before I can remember. A raccoon skitters out from its new home underneath the tower as we head for the car. Adapt and survive. I am a romantic, prone to nostalgia, but I have come to believe that environmental nostalgia is quixotic at best, and at worst, actually counter-productive, so I rid myself of it quietly as the road changes from dirt to gravel to asphalt and the lake looms large, swollen with excess water and the evening rush at the marina.

1 comment:

  1. You draw beautiful images with words. Thank you for painting the vision of this day in ways that acknowledge multiple vantage points, while at the same time making it up close and personal. As always, you make me ponder and evaluate my own presence on the planet.