By Charlie Morris
It’s hard to remember something is valuable when you have never seen it. It’s so easy to forget that underneath our homes, our roads, our greenways, rests a covered world. A place waiting to live again. What lies underneath all the things we have built? The work of millenia of connected ecosystems sleeps dormant, waiting for daylight and seeds. All the spaces where our kids do homework, where we live our lives, where we shop for groceries, where we drive our cars and tap our fingers on the steering wheel to the music playing on the radio…all of this is built on top of something once alive. Could we be involved with helping this world breathe again?
We celebrate our town’s plantings and outdoor gardens and Carrboro’s “Tree City” designation while standing where there were once entire forests. It’s hard to accept the downsides of how we occupy spaces. Chapelboro is a place built by people and for people. We don’t build ecosystems. That’s not our gift. We can’t improve upon Nature with our hands. We remove nature to make way for what we want. Our knack, unfortunately for us, is in deconstructing something natural in order to create a hardened and fabricated new world around us. We can now literally drive around our town and see just how small the remaining pockets of forest are. We can walk through most of them in less than an hour.
What looks appealing to us now, is this humanscaped space, because we have spent so little time in the way things were before modernity caught up with what is now called Chapel Hill and Carrboro. And living like this, it’s so much harder to separate “I want” from “I need.” I think our sense of disconnection drives us to push away the natural world even more. We don’t like to be reminded of those we have abandoned. In the end, we get lost, nearly literally, in all the streets and avenues we have made and what we merely want is experienced by us as a visceral need. It is this mindset that is behind our constant drive to build more and to have more…and it’s exactly the thinking that allows for the idea to pave in Bolin Forest to seem reasonable.
If you support paving in a place like Bolin Forest, in defiance of all the myriad warnings, you should feel bad. Hear me out. I’d argue that you actually need to figure out how to feel bad. Our future depends on all of us feeling guilt that is strong enough to make us choose differently or we can’t begin the environmental shifts and economic shifts required.
As we can all see, the planet exacts a price for that way of thinking. We can’t afford that bill.
This debate about paving in Bolin Forest isn’t about equity, the handicapped getting trail access, social justice, a bike transportation corridor, or reducing carbon emissions. Those are all red herrings. It’s about protecting what remains of the natural world. It’s about taking this chance to sacrifice what we want (a bike path that only some will use), for what we actually need (a protected forest for the sake of the planet).
Charlie Morris lived in Carrboro from 2003-2019, raising his kids while tromping around in Bolin Forest. He is a conservationist minded filmmaker, writer and thinker. He returns often to Carrboro to visit friends, the forest and community.