Getting Down To Earth
A second ago is already history. People alive today could have had a grandparent who was born before the Civil War. You are younger right now than you will ever be again.
Take a moment to let some of those ideas sink in… I mean really sink in… Ok. My point is that paying close attention to the implications of time passing can often make us take a deeper look at our lives and the world around us. Usually, we just go about our daily business without pausing to pay attention, but once in a while we’re pulled up short.
Memorably, that happened to me in a Glasgow art gallery in 1999. I don’t remember the title or theme of the exhibit, but it included a series of depressing black and white photographs of post-WWII homes boarded up and abandoned. This was the Love Canal in Niagara Falls, NY, which I vaguely remembered hearing about when I was a kid growing up not far away. I didn’t remember why the small community had gained enough notoriety to be displayed in an exhibit in Scotland 25 years later.
Belying a name that evokes visions of a romantic excursion, according to the EPA Journal, “Quite simply, Love Canal is one of the most appalling environmental tragedies in American history.”
For decades, the Hooker Chemical Company turned a half-completed canal into a dumpsite then later covered it over and sold the land. Houses and schools were built on it. In 1978, heavy rainfall triggered leaching and toxic, carcinogenic chemicals were released into the soil and air. Trees died, playing children suffered burns, babies were born with birth defects, and people got very sick. Two hundred homes were abandoned, and the area was designated a Superfund site.
I was only ten years old in 1978, but what is happening around me right now that I am not noticing? What are the potential “Superfund sites” in my life and community that need and deserve attention? Looking back, what will I wish I had done something about?
Image above: Artichoke ranch near Half Moon Bay, California. November 14, 1938, by Dorothea Lange, Library of Congress. Around the corner from where we live in Half Moon Bay. It's now a non-profit sustainable agriculture enterprise called Sweet Farm.
Heidi Hackford explores how past and present intersect.