Rising Above the Sprawl

I was contemplating the Ramapo Mountains early this morning. I get up early for the magic it brings. This morning didn’t disappoint as the slowly brightening sky highlighted the fog dancing through the hills of Ridgewood State Park. That there’s a highway, gas stations, bus terminal and assorted strip mall horror below this didn’t change my focus on what was beautiful, though I remained aware of the encroachment. There’s really no other way to move through this life – focus on the good, pragmatically manage the not-so-good.

“God never made an ugly landscape. All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.” – John Muir

My drive down here Sunday involved miles of choking, soul-crushing traffic. Playlists and podcasts only go so far in the face of this. Most every car was filled with people coming from or going to something more beautiful, be it family or vacation or a day at the beach. And yet our collective journeys brought us all to the ugliness of gridlocked highways. Surely there’s a better way.

Society pivots over time. At one point someone pushed for the protection of the forested hills of the Ramapo Mountains, saving them from a carpet of condos or some other indignity. Ridgewood State Park was born the same year I was. Now 53 years later I’m drawn to the very hills that inspired their protection. Good things can happen if we work at it. There’s talk of electric cars and Musk’s transportation tunnel and other such miracles of technological advancement. Perhaps it will transform our highways and cities from gridlocked misery. Society is slowly… slowly, pivoting.

These hills around me are a good reminder of what preservation can do to protect us from ourselves. Sometimes we don’t see the forest for the trees. We know we shouldn’t eat the French fries but we eat the French fries. We know we should build clean and sustainable infrastructure and we build wider highways. The contrast between the transportation infrastructure below and the cooling green of the Ramapo Mountains above is a striking reminder of what’s possible if we’d only work at it.

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