Its early January and the temperature is somewhere between ridiculously and ludicrously cold. About -54F to be precise. Not that even one person out of a hundred that may read this has any sort of idea as to what temperatures that cold even mean. But I'll digress to the heart of the matter.
My family and I returned from a recent Christmas trip back home to our home state of Tennessee for a couple of weeks with the folks and a well deserved break from the Alaska winter. I have a lot of fond memories of Tennessee and I guess I've not been gone for all that long- about a decade. Not a great deal of time if you're a tree or a Galapogos tortoise but for a young man approaching middle age it can be a rather long time.
During our absence a couple of things happened. It appeared that automobiles started mating and reproducing like rabbits on crystal meth and that everyone from the Northeast retired and moved to Tennessee. It also seems that everyone who had more that a half acre sold it and developed it into some sort of retail franchise or housing development. Now that I've been living in Interior Alaska for a few years (pop. 3500 over several hundred square miles) the population density was shocking. Cars apparently weren't the only thing reproducing like rabbits.
I had a sense of melancholy as my Grandmother's farm was sold off by her estate, happily to horse farmers and not a real estate developer although it is only a matter of time until the ground is worth more as tract homes than horse pasture and the inevitable will happen but until then its good to see the place intact. I looked out at the big spooky wood were as a young man I learned to hunt squirrels and fell in love with wild places. Where the boom of a shotgun or the crack of a small bore rifle was as natural as breathing. I spent long hours in the creek wading for crayfish (crawdads in local parlance) and catching box turtles
That big spooky woods is now reduced to a few acres as the surrounding properties were developed and the squirrels are still there but not as thick and the boom or crack of a gun will alert local law enforcement and generally piss off the populace. The creek is now a concrete lined drainage and God only knows what happened to the crawdads. The crooked two lane macadam road has been replaced by a newer version just as twisty and twice as dangerous as before due to the abundance of cars speeding down it.
The old home place had surely changed as had the surrounding countryside. The comfortable feeling of being home was replaced by a subtle and eerie sense that something had seriously changed. The main throroughfare and shopping district looked like every other shopping district in every town I've ever been in. National chain stores in cheap boxy buildings lined both sides of the road for several miles further than town had ever gone before. I guess the city planners and politicians call this progress but for one I'm not so sure. Most of my old haunts were long gone- the burger joint where the teenagers hung out-bull dozed. The family restaurant that marked our spot on the State Highway and served as both Sunday dining and truck stop was in the process of being demolished in favor of a new Walgreens drug store chain. A row on condominiums now lined the golf course that I remember as a pasture full of cows.
I keep wondering if the place has really changed that much or if I have and have a resultant sensitivity to development and progress. I for one was glad to go see family but our return to vast Alaskan wilderness felt wonderful and freeing- something akin to a cicadia shedding it's skin. I think that returning home is a fine endeavor but don't be surprised if its not there anymore.