This concrete marker has been in the woods, a silent sentinel, for more than 50 years. It was put there by the now-defunct St. Regis Paper Company to mark an easement granted to the former owner of our land. That owner was a legendary legal mind, an orator in the grand style of southern lawyers, one of the last in these parts who “read” for the law rather than going to law school. He came into possession of our hundred acres and a similar-sized adjacent parcel as payment for a legal fee of roughly $300. Seems incredible now, but it was a long time ago. Incredible flows to inevitable with surprising ease.
Look closely, and in the distance you can see another be-ribboned marker. It marks a section line. Beyond it is our neighbor’s land, her horse pasture and barn. Cast your eye along that section line to imagine that just on the other side of her land is a ribbon of asphalt, the exact spot at which the current road makes a 90° curve. That is the point at which the county will straighten the road.
From the front door of our house, the old farm gate where we enter the property is roughly 1/3 of a mile, or approximately 800 of my steps. Our neighbor’s horse pasture begins at the first 90° curve of the existing road. Our gate is at the third 90° curve of the existing road.
It has been about five years since we got the first glimmer of the big changes that are in store for this area of the county in general. Surveyers have shown up from time to time. I’ve written about their visitations. Little pink flags and pick-up trucks. Public hearings have been held with bemused area residents circling large, colorfully rendered concept maps; citizens trying to get an answer to two elusive questions. How will this affect my land? When?
In the first public gatherings, a county representative sanguinely assured residents that all this tumult was on paper only, a hundred-year plan for the area. I knew better, blest or cursed as I am with the gift of finding the devil in the fine print of labryinthine online archives that are public, but sometimes placed in odd spots, and hard to find for anyone but a cold-nosed dog.
There’s an old saw about how you can’t unring a bell that’s been rung. It’s true. The knowledge that the county might abandon the current road at the first 90° degree curve and create a straightened continuation to roughly follow the section line for more than a mile and cut our property in half very close to our home was a bite from the apple that couldn’t be spit out. And it didn’t matter whether the change would come in fifty years or two, because suddenly the dreamy understanding that we are only stewards of the land became real as a concrete marker driven into the soft ground.
The concrete marker is about ten feet to the right of this picture. I don’t measure distances on the ground in terms of feet or yards. I get the sense of whether something is near or far by my own steps. Here, for instance, it is 100 steps taken by a 5’4″ woman to the front door. I take about 800 steps every day from the house straight down the asphalt drive and private gravel road to our gate. Every day, I try to imagine how life will change with an 80-foot right-of-way road right here, carrying traffic to new jobs that will come to this poor county because of the changes and helping people escape from hurricanes via this new east-west corridor.
Ah. There it is, that nugget I can’t ignore. I want it to be all one way. I want it to be just about us, what we want, about the interruption of our splendid isolation and the way the rerouting of the road reroutes our lives.
Ten days ago brought a visit from civil engineers to let us know surveyors would be on the property, this time to formulate three options for the precise placement of the road. Not in 100 years, or 50: this September.
When I leave the house walking to the gate, the spring-fed stream bed is on either side of the gravel road at about the 400 step mark. It flows from the spring-head on the east side of the road through a metal culvert under the road and gradually meanders westerly through the woods, sometimes going underground and then popping up to the surface again. Almost every day now, I spend a little time here, first hacking away the heavy vines, nature’s constrictors, to be able to get close enough to the stream bed to work, then pulling half rotted tree branches and tangled nests of roots out of the water to clear a way for the water to flow rather than merely puddle. Even a vigorous natural spring can get clotted with dead leaves and become nearly stagnant. An interventional debridement can restore the powerful circulation. I am connecting with my own source waters, nurturing the roots of personal happiness, and going with the flow.