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Is that the sound of a bird? - Bob Paslay

The news the other day that one-fourth of Clayton County is already covered in concrete or asphalt got me to thinking as Earth Day passed quietly.

Will we one day go down to Atlanta to visit a tree in a museum? Will our great-grandchildren one day be sitting around the condo and say seriously? "Grandpa, tell me what dirt is again."

One of the greatest presidents who ever lived was Teddy Roosevelt. Forget the fact that he's responsible for Teddy bears, which I collect. Forget the fact that he is a character in a wonderful Caleb Carr historic novel, "The Alienist."

This rugged outdoorsman, who turned to nature to toughen himself, had the foresight to say: Hey, this great outdoors is wonderful but one day greed is going to make a lot of it vanish and we have to set aside some park land.

When he became president in 1901, Roosevelt established the U.S. Forest Service and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allowed him to proclaim 18 national monuments. He also obtained congressional approval for the establishment of five national parks and 51 wildlife refuges and set aside land as national forests.

The area of the United States placed under public protection by Theodore Roosevelt totals approximately 230 million acres. Others have some foresight also. Look at Central Park in New York City and Piedmont Park in Atlanta. Both are little islands of green and birds and water in a sea of concrete and steel.

Greed is a horrible thing and it is going to make our lives more and more miserable in coming decades. We look at a beautiful pasture with wild flowers growing and we see a work of art by the Creator. Developers look at that same pasture and see $40,000 a condo profits and asphalt roads winding through expensive lots. Developers look at zoning with two units an acre and say to officials: If you will give me a variance I can cram four units an acre on this site.

Ambition is a wonderful trait because it is the pursuit of a goal with tenacity. Greed is ambition unchecked. That is why people like President Roosevelt had such foresight to say no. I don't care how much you are offering. This bit of nature is not for sale.

All of us have found little enclaves of sanity in which we freeze time for a half hour to watch bees working flowers or a bird building a nest. And then we stop there a year later and to our horror bulldozers are plowing nature under for a new development.

If we have failed as a society, we failed in the fact that every city council, county commission and state lawmaker was not doing year in and year out what Roosevelt did, set aside one more acre of public land.

As I was growing up this concern for the environment was mocked by large segments of the population. People were called tree huggers. Now as acre after acre is paved over, even the average person is starting to question the wisdom. The human psyche was not designed to be shoved and shouted at and intruded upon constantly without a break. We cry out for a little quiet, a little respite. The problem is that with more and more people and less and less open space we are turning the quiet places into noisy ones. There are still little quiet spots of beach in the world in which you can sit and listen to the water lap the shore, an occasional bird calling overhead. Then there is Myrtle Beach, where all the annoyances and noise of the subdivision has been moved to the sand.

I wish I could say that things will get better as we push forward into the 21st century. The truth is enjoy it while it is here because more asphalt is coming.

Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald and can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at bpaslay@news-daily.com.