Untouched skylines

  • Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo

Staff Writer
Published: 6/10/2021 10:25:18 AM

The blue hour is perhaps my favorite time of the day — that magical slowing down as the modern world forgets itself and reverts to a simpler way of being. Through the gathering dusk on a recent evening, as my feet carried me along a familiar trail, my mind wandered out of the physical realm and into that of the imagination.

Trees extended as far as the eye could see; the sky was smog-free and devoid of disruptive buildings; nature and the human world existed together in harmony. Not to say this is a fictional vista, but sadly, empty skylines are becoming a little bit of a commodity with each year that passes.

There’s only about a quarter of wilderness remaining worldwide, for example.

I was reminded of this alarming reality on a recent trip to Pennsylvania.

Last weekend, I drove about 4 hours through New York to help one of my brothers move. The journey took me through the busy thoroughfares of Connecticut, past New York’s distant skyline and into the smoggy depths of New Jersey. I found myself feeling a little bit sad while driving beneath the rising smoke, longing for the open spaces of my home in the Pioneer Valley — but even there, signs of change can be found everywhere.

Over my lifetime of 30 years, I’ve watched development creep across the region. I remember when the scent of manure was so strong at the Hampshire Mall that I’d hurry across the parking lot to escape it. These days, the stench of exhaust has replaced that of manure and there’s a Wal-Mart covering what used to be a grassy field.

Still, beyond the Route 9 corridor and other populated areas, there’s a lot of empty space left.

As a Western Massachusetts native, I’ve always taken for granted the close connection to nature this region enjoys. Most roads outside the populated city centers are rural; deed-restricted tracts of land ensure that open space will stay undeveloped; conservation and the health of the planet is at the forefront of most people’s minds.

It’s typical to see environmental activists standing on town commons calling for a cleaner future.

The older I get, the more I understand that the natural world can’t defend itself from concrete and cars.

It must be protected. And in order for that to happen, it first must be cherished and valued.

The surest way to foster an appreciation for the natural world is to get out into it.

In this regard, let me offer a suggestion: On a quiet and clear evening, around the time when the sun dips below the horizon, set a course down a nearby trail and follow your feet wherever they lead.

If enough people took up this daily practice, we’d all be better off — as would the planet.

Hopefully, someday soon, humanity will learn to co-exist with Mother Nature so that, in the future, untouched skylines don’t only exist in my imagination.

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@recorder.com.


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