Sometimes I think about the things I love about my home state, where I’ve lived all my life. What are the most important things to me? The things it has in it: the people, the plants, the history, the way pear trees look in spring, the way the breeze tickles my ears when I’m sitting in the middle of a forest, finding a salamander in a stream, forgotten places, right-of-ways, running down an old road. The sweetest memories I can think of are also the simplest – sipping tea under our barn’s twinkling yellow-hued lights with our neighbors, watching my daddy leave late at night in his pickup to help his best friend down the road find the cows that have escaped again, showing strangers my parents invited home for Sunday lunch around our woods, hearing my mama say “chester drawers” again. Those are things I love because they feel like home – I don’t want to leave those memories. I want to hold on to them as my own life changes. I want to keep the country in the country. Yes, there are many things that need to change in our state; but what about the things that are changing too quickly to push back?
Transition has been coming to our little road recently. And no, I don’t mean the Pilates club Mrs. Green is starting or the giant red shoe someone left near Pax Hill Farm (just don’t ask). A few years back, a Dollar General was built, the first store within a twenty-mile radius. That wasn’t bad. Most of the neighbors cheered because we don’t have to drive to the nearest town anymore to get a jug of milk, and it was fondly dubbed the DG. Now, we even have a gas station only about eight miles down the highway.
The reason for these transitions is because more people are moving out to the country. They’ve grown tired of the city. They’re moving out to the “small” towns that are trendy, but are becoming not so small anymore. That’s fine, but you can’t just have more people come to the country and expect everything will stay the same. More people mean more houses, new cookie-cutter neighborhoods mean more DGs, more gas stations, and maybe even a grocery store. Those things add up. The developers dam up the crayfish streams – crawdad, crawfish, crayfish, however you say it – and tear up those lovely old forgotten gravel roads to pave new, hard, black ones. They don’t consider the little things – like how nice it is, sometimes, to hear a rooster crow in the morning, or a train blowing its horn at midnight. If the country disappears, those things will be forever changed.
Recently, I’ve found kudzu in our woods. Kudzu, the plant that ate the (metropolitan) South, out here? A few years ago I wouldn’t have believed it, but here it is. A little seed can cause a lot of damage, eventually causing a mess impossible to uproot, leaving no hint of what was there before. “City-fying” the country would be like the invasive kudzu that crowds out the delicate wildflowers. It would leave behind a mess of concrete and blacktop that future generations will look at, unable to see our stories, unable to see the marks of individual people. That’s what happens when you smother the country.
Of course, it’s not the city people’s fault; they’re harmless, and once they move out here, they start to become part of our community. They eventually bring a little color to us one-dimensional boondockers, like Mrs. Green and her Pilates. It’s not the fault of anyone in particular. But we, all of us, even city people, can mold the change. We can enjoy the country while we have it and do our best to preserve things and change things in our own way. We can push away the blacktop and pave new gravel roads instead. We can root up the kudzu and teach new people how to catch salamanders. We can’t let change stop us from holding tight to what we have and never letting go.