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South Carolina Honors College

Forests of Brick and Vinyl

by Carolyn Christopher 

Stretches of golden fields and jagged treetops reach for the pearly white clouds as I travel down my dead-end road. A few houses begin to interrupt the tree line, temporarily stopping the rhythmic greenery. I near the end of my street and the trees slowly shrink and shift into more fields of growing hay, which is halted by a two-lane road placed perfectly in the land. I can see mountains bending against the northeast horizon. On my left, the open road stretches straight out and bends over a hill to the southeast.  

I turn the corner and venture over the hill, immediately being met by houses peeking out of the trees and driveways gliding into the road. Fences separate one bright green yard from another, creating a type of friendly privacy between neighbors.  

The greenery passes by while I continue farther along the painted yellow lines. The world seems to change more and more from towering forests into repetitious buildings of brick and vinyl. This rhythmic sequence of rural quaintness is interrupted when I find myself in front of acres upon acres of houses laid like a blanket over the leveled land. Mass subdivisions in the eyes of those who treasure wildlife and nature are seen as a poor use of land, a cause of overpopulation, and destruction of one of the finest, purest forms of beauty.  

Driving by, I get glimpses of generic people going about their generic lives outside of their generic homes. Like the plastic that covers their houses, these South Carolinians are becoming more common and mass-produced. They’re incorporated to make a profit and cover the unfinished work that lacks natural beauty. After all, it seems that as long as people are put somewhere, it makes that place acceptable, just as vinyl does for buildings.  

With a daily sigh of disapproval and disappointment, I continue along the asphalt stretch. Lost in the thought of the road trying to distract me from the views of dissipating nature, I move farther away from my world of comfort. I start to pass emerging shops, supermarkets, dine-ins, take-outs, and various forms of modern entertainment. The vinyl people briskly walk up and down the street’s concrete trails while annoyed drivers push at my bumper. It’s a wonder where everyone could be going in such haste because it can’t be any less generic than from where they came.  

All around I see mountains of brick and stone rising from the ground while thin, gray clouds of dust dim the blue sky. The mountain’s windows reflect the pale blue and behind that barrier are those same vinyl people who are completely shielded from the destruction they thrive in. Those windows may as well have been made from stone, for the people behind them see just that much. I feel a type of aching at these sights, even though I know of the great advantages they provide. I settle for a feeling of slight homesickness and eagerness to complete the business I’ve come to do.  

Heading back towards my perfect world again, the stone mountains sink back into the ground, the concrete trails thin, the vinyl fields return to gold, and the stretches of highway cut back through the land as a quiet two-lane road. I’m home. Glad to find it all as it should be –  bursting with frolicking animals, proud trees reaching for the clouds, and all the houses separated by huge fields. This is where my heart belongs. This is how my world should be. This is how South Carolina should be.

Over the course of fifteen years, beginning in 2001, South Carolina lost 281,000 acres of land suitable for agriculture, reports American Farmland Trust, a national nonprofit organization that works to protect and conserve farmland. In 2020, South Carolina was the eighth-most threatened state in the U.S. for losing farmland, much of it to low-density residential land use, the AMT found. 

“South Carolina’s farms are under some of the greatest threat of any state in the nation,” said Billy Van Pelt II, AFT senior director of external relations. “The rate of farmland loss is jeopardizing $750 million in agricultural exports and a thriving local food economy of nearly $75 million.” In addition to profit, an estimated 65,000 people who work in South Carolina’s agricultural economy are threatened by job loss because of farming’s decline.  

With circumstances like these, it is apparent that we as a state build but we do not restore, and it is urgent that we work to contradict that fact. 

Source Cited

Sallet, Lori. “What’s at stake when we pave over, fragment and otherwise fail to protect South Carolina farmland from the disruptions of development?” American Farmland Trust, 20 May 2020.

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