personal address to the National Park Conservation Association, one of several included in a proposal (2015)
Photo: A pair of buffleheads swim through Backbay Wildlife Refuge. I painted many of these when I worked for a wood carver who made anachronistic duck decoys and sold them for extortionary sums.
I grew up on a few acres of former Virginia swampland.The area was peopled, if I can say that, by a rich assortment of itinerant water birds, water snakes (some poisonous), painted turtles, bullfrogs (rarely seen but always in evidence), bats and, fairly well out of earshot (though not clayshot), a few actual humans. Between our house and the road remained a wild sliver of dark, untouched marsh that was probably once the eastern advance of the later-named Great Dismal Swamp, before it was drained and cleared of its native pines and cypresses and retreated to where it was most inhospitable and resistant to avarice (the little of it left made legally verboten by the Dismal Swamp Act of 1974).
The night sky seemed to have weathered the sawtooth edge of civilization somewhat better, thanks in part to a development no-go zone along Backbay Wildlife Refuge, which the land I grew up on more or less abutted. There without much in the way of streetlamps to impugn on its brilliance it radiated wildly, on moonless nights flowing down with such a roar* you felt as though you had been deatomized and absorbed, scattered back into the cosmos, right hand to this star, left hand to that one…
In spite of the no-go zone, by the mid-1990s the pallid bleach of civilization had left its mark on the western horizon and the stars slid into a sallow dome of light of such an indescribably putrid color I understood why my father disliked “the city.” It wasn’t truly the city, of course, but the effluence of several smallish housing developments many miles away, the flattening boom of ‘progress’ announced fairly well ahead of time by the light it generated.
Fact had no real bearing on my imagination, however. In my head rose incongruous hulks of concrete and glass.
I live in New York now.
where there’ birding is surprisingly good because of its location along the Atlantic Flyway.
where I have not seen a star (of the celestial kind) since the interminable gray of winter settled over the city. Even the moon at its fullest seems so much further away than it has a right to be and the random twinkling bodies which break through this sort of lugubrious fog tend only to be our nearest astral celebrities. Such is life here, I guess.
Yet I love this city of eight million and their eight million stories for all the same reasons I loved the stars and their mysterious anonymity, at once together and apart, for it roars the same.But under this veil I can’t help feeling all the more disconnected from them.
Faulkner, writing in 1956 about white prejudice in his home state of Mississippi, said that to save Mississippi was to save America. I took his point in that “as above so below” kind of way, that intrinsic patterns underlying the physical universe repeat and scale in both directions, from the infinitesimally small to the inconceivably large, from brain cell to universe, from atom to galaxy, from human to star. And to save America, we must save them all.
* Yusunari Kawabata