In a corner of Herndon is an old farmhouse with a front porch. My mother used to sit there in the mornings and watch the sun rise over the fields. Or she would swing on the porch swing when it rained, the canopy of old trees around her keeping the drops to a gentle pattern, even though the fields might be drenched.
In that corner of Herndon, old boxwoods watch over 100 years' worth of daffodil beds and soft orange day lilies and rosebushes. The tap-tap of woodpeckers greets each morning, and cardinals and blue jays and wrens sing from the thickets.
An old tire swing hangs from the oak tree. The game is to climb up a nearby tree and have someone push the swing up to you. Then you launch into infinity, swinging straight up toward the towering branches. You are airborne through the whispering leaves, until the swing gently slows to a stop.
Generations of pets are buried there, sleeping under the pines.
A haven was what my mother called this. She loved it, the place of safety for owls and foxes. And for us.
My mother is no longer here, and any day now the bulldozers will arrive. Heavy-wheeled machines will rumble through the thickets, cut down the trees, chop up the fields. It will take a few days, and then it will be over.
I had a preview of this.
When I was little, Herndon was surrounded by woods and farms. But one day when I was walking down our dirt road, I heard big motors shaking the afternoon and trees crashing to the ground.
Animals were streaming across the road into the safety of our woods: panicked deer, confused owls, a fox limping on an injured leg. Blue jays and cardinals flapped by. None of the animals made a sound. They just fled.
I stood in the road and cried. I couldn't understand why the grown-ups were letting this happen. Now I am a grown-up, and I still can't stop it from happening.
The taxes on my parents' little corner of Herndon were a few hundred dollars a year in 1979. Now the taxes are prohibitive.
My brothers and sisters and I discussed the possibilities for keeping our late parents' property intact, even considering developing it ourselves at a low density so that we could keep as many big trees and as much of the fields as possible. But with our jobs, our families and other responsibilities, this wasn't practical.
We tried conservation easements, but they weren't really tailored to isolated suburban parcels such as ours. We approached the town and the county about their buying the parcel for parkland, but funds weren't available, even though we offered to donate a substantial part of the value. We discussed just donating all the land, but it didn't feel fair to force that choice on all the brothers and sisters, especially those who have growing families or who live outside the area.
So the bulldozers are coming and the land will be divided into quarter-acre lots.
This scenario is being repeated daily throughout our region. Zoning, high taxes and growth pressures combine to make preserving tracts of open space difficult, even when the desire to do so is there.
I know time has to move on, and new houses have to be built and the wheels of commerce have to turn. Still, it's hard to calculate exactly what it is that we have lost.
We lose "green" buffers that absorb water runoff and pollutants. We increase traffic, and we increase taxes. But something else is changed as well.
My town used to have an air of peace about it. The big trees and open fields and quiet streets provided something that now is gone. When I drive down our dirt road into that one remaining corner of Herndon, I leave behind what has become a clutter of cars and noise and stressed people. In my pretty corner, the glaring pavement disappears and quiet descends, beneath the wind blowing high in the tops of the old trees.
I know this from experience: When the time comes, when they take away that pretty place, the peace that surrounds it will disappear with it.
Maybe that doesn't mean anything for our society. But I think it does.
-- Mary Katherine Ishee