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It is a beautiful morning as I write this, the brilliant sun rising in a clear blue sky on a brisk and snapping fall day when all creation hangs on to the visual glories of summer even as northern breezes shepherd us gently but irrevocably into autumn. I think when Jim Croce wrote “If I could put time in a bottle,” he was singing about days like these.
There are other things, just as intangible as time, I’d save in a bottle if I could; bits of beauty that get tossed aside in the daily grind of civilization. Trivial things to some, admittedly, but important nonetheless, like the evening peace of an old Smithville country churchyard recently sacrificed in favor of a too-bright razzle-dazzle sign proclaiming the schedule of sermons and services — a jarring clash of eternal rest and modern hustle.
In Brigantine the bridge we used to cross let us see through the rails day and night to the loveliness of whitecaps on the bay and the antics of seagulls swooping above and below as we crossed the inlet. That went when the utilitarian builders of a new bridge opted for higher sidewalls and blindingly bright lights that destroyed any hope of glimpsing the beauty of sea and sky by day or night. One would have thought that was enough of an assault on the quiet jewels of shore life, but now the town’s councilmen have decided it can’t afford real grass along the median strip leading from bridge to lighthouse but must replace it with Astroturf. Perhaps we will one day see the councilmen replaced with fiberglass robots and computer voices, as might be only fitting for a bunch that can’t be bothered saving the natural beauty their local Garden Club worked to preserve.
Not long ago the Parkway leading from Galloway in Atlantic County to Middle Township in Cape May was graced with lovely mature trees that filled the median divider for miles until they fell to the bulldozers of an overeager contractor. Another gate-happy security contractor built fences to the very water’s edge, until the Cape May citizens awoke to that nonsense and raised hell to get them removed.
More recently an obnoxious illuminated billboard on the causeway leading from Tilton Road to the Margate bridge was successfully challenged and ordered taken down – a victory for everybody whose eyes delight in the open sweep of the horizon over the salt meadows and tidal creeks along that road.
Some people fight to save such vulnerable treasures as beautiful views and natural landscaping and the quiet peace of the nighttime sky, but more such people are needed. I don’t know who came up with the idea of planting natural wildflowers along the Atlantic City Expressway and other highways across the country, but they should be given a medal of appreciation. At the top of the exit ramp where the eastbound expressway meets Delilah Road just south of the airport circle there is a field of wildflowers so joyous to see it lifts the heart to catch even a fleeting glimpse of it.
Once, the preservation of such beauty was the pastime of the very rich. England in the 1700s produced a fellow named Lancelot “Capability” Brown, still revered as the greatest landscape artist of his or any other generation. He worked for the great lords and merchant princes, building hundreds of parks and estates on which he created lakes and meadows and vistas of incredible charm. One story about Brown I love was that he planted rows of trees along the private entrance roads leading to the castles, but planted them in double rows, the quick-growing trees that might last only 20 years or so closest to the carriageway and the stately elms and oaks intended to last centuries a bit farther back, intending that when the quick growth eventually died it would give way to the magnificent vista of the more majestic trees.
We can’t relocate lakes and villages with the easy grandeur of the fabulously wealthy, but even the poorest of us is entitled to have our governments give us something better than plastic grass and chain-link fences and bulldozed tree stumps on our public lands. I hope the garden clubs everywhere will take up the call and remind their public officials that the preservation of beauty, no less than of liberty and security, is part of their official duties.