“Empty” Land

“Empty” and “vacant” land are two expressions that drive me nuts! Used primarily by developers, realtors, and municipal ordinances to refer to land that does not have a human-made structure upon it, the implication is that such land contains nothing of value. Perhaps what is actually vacant are the minds of the people who use such terms.

A couple of years ago, we were driving through California on our way to Arizona when we came upon a “development” in the middle of nowhere. The scale of the terra-forming equipment and the scarifying of the earth horrified me. “That’s how they do things out here,” my husband, who had lived there, explained. “They create a new freeway and build an entire city at the end of it.”

More recently, we caught a clip on PBS about a fellow in Arizona who was using a controversial netting and relocation program to move burrowing owls out of the path of major construction. As he tried to explain to a construction worker that such projects kill everything that is under the ground, I was stunned by the worker’s response --- he had no idea (he said)!

Here in New Jersey we have many more regulations, but the result of development is the same. Land that is just sitting there in its natural state is viewed as doing nothing. Actually what it IS doing is scrubbing the air, soil, and water of pollutants; providing habitat for mammals, birds, insects, amphibians, reptiles, fishes, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees; lowering the ambient temperature; controlling erosion; and providing wild places that soothe and replenish the human psyche.

I feel as if our society’s collective brain is de-volving instead of e-volving. One can only indiscriminately rape the land and murder every living thing that occupies it if one views other species as somehow “less than” ourselves. The Buddhists seem to have it right: Do not upset or harm other living things.

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