The Machinery Beneath the World

My commute has recently changed, and much for the better. Instead of being stuck on the highway, I get to walk over the pleasant stream of Alewife Brook:

And then down a sandy path on the Greenway:

Birds have been singing all the spring long, and wildflowers are in bloom.    How nice to be out of the car, I think, and out in nature.  Then I noticed something by the side of the path:

There’s a reason why this path is so smooth and dry – it’s underlain by plastic sheeting.   This whole area is actually a marsh.  The plastic keeps water from coming up, and weeds from sprouting up through the path.  On the far side of the brook is a fence:

And if you look beyond it:

You see what’s actually going on here.  This whole area was channeled and drained.   Underneath this park are pipes and dams.  It’s about as natural as the  shopping mall on the far side of the railroad.

Alewife Brook Reservation was actually laid out in 1909 by Charles Eliot, son of the great president of Harvard,  and the overall space was landscaped by the Olmstead brothers.  Before them it was a swamp.  The new construction here is for a storm water impound for  Cambridge and Belmont.  It’ll be a marsh, a bird migration and nesting site, and a functional part of the city’s infrastructure.

Some day all the green spaces of the world will look like this – a carefully crafted illusion of nature.  Everything will bear our touch.   Sometimes, like here, our touch will be light and crafted for pleasure.    In most places we’ll just dump the junk we don’t want.

I welcome this idea of nature as stage set.  Actual nature is overgrown and full of ticks bearing Lyme disease.  I’ll take a faux nature full of flowers and birds any time.    I’ll particularly prefer it over commuting in a sealed metal box!

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