Monday, June 15, 2015

Duty to take care of the land

In time, ownership of property will probably carry with it certain obligations, over and above the obligation to pay the tax and keep the morgtage going. There are signs that this is coming, and I think it should come. Today, if a landowner feels the urge, he can put a backhoe into his hillside pasture and disembowel it. He can set his plow against the contours and let his wealth run down into the brook and into the sea. He can sell his topsoil off by the load and make a gravel pit of a hayfield. For all the interference he will get from the community, he can dig through to China, exploiting as he goes. With an ax in his hand he can annihilate the woods, leaving brush piles and stumps. He can build any sort of building he chooses on his land in the shape of a square or an octagon or a milk bottle. Except in zoned areas he can erect any sort of sign. Nobody can tell him where to head in—it is his land and this is a free country. Yet people are beginning to suspect that the greatest freedom is not achieved by sheer irresponsibility. The earth is common ground and we are all over-lords. whether we hold title or not. gradually the idea is taking form that the land must be held in safekeeping, that one generation is to some extent responsible to the next, and that it is contrary to the public good to allow an individual, merely because of his whims or his ambitions, to destroy almost beyond repair any part of the soil or the water or even the view.
E. B. White, One Man's Meat, November 1942, in Martha White ed., E. B. White on Dogs (Gardiner Maine: Tilbury House, 2013)

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