They were conceived as “parkways” -- beautifully landscaped scenic “pleasure roads” that would provide a place for recreational driving and deliver crowded urban dwellers to beaches and state parks.
But roadways attract cars and more cars beget more highways. Today those initial pastoral aesthetics are largely gone and many of the parkways are now major commuting routes and, in some cases, interstate highways. The land alongside is abused, battered and broken. Where natural drainage paths have been disrupted the land floods and plants die. Exposed to the full brunt of winter storms the trees break, uproot and fall. Squeezed between other roadways and exurban sprawl these places are too isolated to provide any significant wildlife habitat. And despite their proximity to vast amounts of human activity most of us never set foot in them.
When visiting these unkempt abandoned places I was initially disheartened by the hubcaps, plastic buckets, beer bottles and other accumulating detritus. But I saw the thick mats of brambles, vines and decomposing leaves quietly absorbing everything and was tempted to see nature as tenaciously fighting back. Now as I spend more time engulfed in these landscapes, however, I have begun to question this perspective. Upon reflection it seems that nature, like a Buddhist bodhisattva, responds spontaneously, effortlessly and without judgement to the conditions with which it is presented. And here I find there’s a lesson that gives me solace and hope and perhaps a little wisdom for my own life.