06 July 2007

Setting Out

[The Chatham rabbit postcard immediately below is hot-linked from the North Carolina Collection's "North Carolina Postcards" digital collection. Other photos courtesy the author.]

Now comes the moment that changes the place forever. It has happened before, of course, and we're only kidding ourselves if we think the dirt here hasn't seen change. It happened when the settlers of European lines began to identify themselves as the people of New Hope or Sandy Creek. It happened when some of them registered among their property the laborers of African descent, and set them to digging the rows where the new land prospered.

It happened when the rail chugged through, then again when the paved roads were laid down on a bed of federal money. It happened again when a generation of micro-farmers began refitting the old tobacco fields and plantation sites to an alternative, regional economy.

It happened when a building concern from Chapel Hill laid the first of the mixed-use communities and set off the wave of suburban development that washes over the place now. And speaking of washing and waves, it happened when the US Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Haw and flooded New Hope Valley, and for the sake of flood control and bathwater in Raleigh, filled Jordan Lake.

But in terms of force, sweep and pace, it's hard to top what's happening now. For those of us who live in the place, and those in the region who see it as an outskirt, the trend is well-known. Dozens of residential developments are underway. The population will grow from just under 50,000 at the 2000 census estimate to perhaps over 100,000 by 2020, with the bulk of growth concentrated in the northeast corner.

At this moment, as the gears of the growth machine mesh, Chatham County, North Carolina finds itself in an advancing state of disassembly. The developers' machines peel back layers of use and disuse to show new and transitory contexts for old things. Places and objects appear from where they lay in the shade, or under brush, or buried under topsoil. Heavy machinery roots up the place's stones, turns its insides out to the sky in a riot of clay and cut green timber, and piles it all along with the detritus of the old infrastructure off to the sides of job sites.

Now the eye is engaged by old forms in new placements,

new, transitory vistas,

invading grasses,

receding foliage,

heaps of both solid and brittle pieces.

Boulder pile. Pipe heap.

Over time, the agent of this transformation, the growth machine, will tamp it all down again, landscape it with stones shipped in from elsewhere, and label it with new, focus-grouped names like Briar Chapel, the Parks at Meadowview, Legend Oaks.

Some people mourn this change as a travesty, and an affront to nature. Others celebrate it as progress. While the Rabbit certainly has opinions on the state of a meadow (as well as a forest, glade, ridge, hollow, field ...), he has only two sharp eyes and a hankering for scampering to affect the course of the growth machine. This document is a change log. The philosophy: observe, research, and connect. Critique where there's leisure to do it, and on rare occassions, advocate. But neither endorse nor spin an ideology besides one: Now we owe it to the place to keep an accounting of names as they change, to see the land where it's turned, and to make its olds stories alive in the ongoing.

1 comment:

tommy yum said...

when i first got my house it had giant rabbits that loped around, hardly bothering to get out of my way. feral cats changed that.

they were unlike the smaller variety i usually see, considering their options by the side of the road.

i welcome the return of the chatham rabbit.