Recently, I took a sentimental journey back to the places I lived when I was young. I didn’t even have to leave home since Google Maps makes it easy to visit almost anywhere on earth. If you have an address or know the general location, you can use its satellite view to see almost everything you’d see if you were there.
So, back I went to Lakewood, Ohio, and found the house where I lived from age 3-11. It reminded me of how excited I had been to see Lake Erie from the attic windows. I remember playing Batman and Robin, Captain Marvel, hopscotch and marbles with my friends. Except during meals or horrible weather, we always were outside.
From the time I was 8, if we’d earned the $1.50 to ride horses for an hour, my best friend and I rode our bikes to the stable in Metropolitan Park. That’s a gigantic park that circles the Cleveland area and winds through huge rock outcroppings, forests and cliffs.
We wanted to be there early so we could get our favorite horses, and that usually required rousting the stable boys out of their bunks. Thinking back, it’s amazing they let us go on the trails unaccompanied at that age. We’d ride for an hour, then go back and walk the horses until they were cool, brush them, and then take off into the woods and hills. We found springs where we got fresh water to go along with the lunches we’d packed. If that wasn’t heaven, I don’t know what is.
Unlike my neighborhood friends, I went to a Catholic school and walked more than a mile to get there. My goal was to find a different route every day, which meant going through yards, over fences and along different streets. I don’t remember anyone ever yelling at me for cutting through their yards. Then again, I was pretty fast back then.
From Google Maps, I can see that some of the streets where we rode our bikes are now super highways. The small park at the end of street is gone, replaced by a coffee shop. Metropolitan Park still exists, but is surrounded by loud and crowded roads.
When I was in fifth grade, we moved to the country. There were a few houses along the road, but none across the street where there was a farm field with woods beyond it. Behind our house was a large field full of pheasants that scared the heck out of me and my dog when they burst into the air. Beyond that field was a wooded area where we built a fort from all natural materials. Running through the woods was a stream where my friends and I rode rafts we’d made from logs and boards. Again, I was in heaven.
The house still stands, but it isn’t in the country anymore. What used to be farmland and woods is now an industrial park, paved in concrete. Behind the house is a huge housing development. I don’t know what they did with the stream, but I can’t find a sign of it now.
I found other areas I’ve lived, too. Except for the very remote places where we farmed, they’re almost all covered in concrete or buildings. Even the small village where we lived in Germany is totally different now. I used to walk a few blocks and be in the country with its beautiful fields, pastures, hills and valleys. Today, it’s all housing or commercial buildings.
Just in my lifetime, many millions of acres of land have been covered in concrete or buildings. As the population grows, we eliminate more farmland and smother it with highways, homes or businesses. To make room for development, we divert waterways, destroy water-absorbing forests, prairies and wetlands and wonder why there’s worse flooding during heavy rains. We eliminate prairie and forests that absorb excess carbon dioxide and cover those areas with pollution- creating factories and other businesses. People demand bigger homes that take more space and require more energy to heat and cool.
Small family farms are being replaced by huge corporate farms owned by people who bribe lawmakers to deregulate the disposal of huge amounts of manure and other wastes they create. That results in the contamination of private wells, lakes and streams. Even more deregulation allows them to pump so much water that streams, rivers and shallower wells go dry.
If this continues, I wonder how far our great-grandchildren will have to travel to find natural areas where the air and water are clean and there’s no sound of traffic. How will we be able to feed everyone with fewer and fewer acres of land available to produce food?