At Large : Toward sustainability
My spirits are buoyant this morning. Maybe we can save this place after all. The stars, as an astrologer might put it, seem to be aligning themselves. They must be entering retrograde or some other similar grade. Of course retrograde would be perfect. Retrograde is what we're all about.
I have thought for a while that zoning rules, health rules, subdivision rules, conservation rules, Martha's Vineyard Commission rules, endangered species rules, water conservation rules, setback rules, parking rules, pesticide rules, herbicide rules, smoking rules, Jet Ski rules, low-fat rules, moped rules, homeland security rules and other rules I've not the space to mention have got us where we find ourselves today. It's all about lots, uses, and about what someone proposes and what we deign to allow. It's okay if you're grandfathered in, though we may frown on what you have. It's not okay if you're not.
Still, acting in concert this way, we've been unable to turn back the summer tourism tide. And, ironically - also dishearteningly - in these wicked economic times, discouraging tourism has fallen to the bottom of the agenda, and encouraging visits from the rich and famous and anyone else who happens by has become the summer 2009 mantra. I guess we're self-satisfied when we can be, shameless when we must.
We need something more powerful than mere attitude, expense, and oppressive rules to retreat to sustainability.
Maybe that something is at hand in the form of bad news. I know that everyone hopes for good news. The newspaper business is always under fire for publishing too much bad news. Critics say newspaper people like bad news because its sells newspapers. Well, sure, but by that logic it's the readers that like the bad news, isn't it? Anyway, the anti-bad news movement has gone so far as to suggest that newspapers should publish stories that encourage good things to happen, so that good news will result, and then stories about the good news will fill the gaping columns in each week's edition. That's sometimes called "community journalism," and it hasn't caught on. After all, one of the virtues of the news business is that for the most part we try to play it as it lies, good or bad. (Or, we used to.) That way we limit our exposure, so to speak, to criticism if something we touted that seemed a good thing ultimately turns out to be a bad thing. I think the theory is known as plausible deniability. We in the news game like that.
But anyhow, this is not a case where we need to worry about good news turning out bad. This is the opposite. The papers and especially the TV are full of bad news that may turn out to be good. For us, I mean. In the general sense, you understand, not in any particular, individual human sense.
For several years, folks have been counting on ticks to do the job of discouraging tourism. The mere nuisance of them, never mind the medical complications, is enough to put almost anyone off. But it's clear that it hasn't worked. Visitors persist. We all persist. By our neglect of nuisance vegetation, and because of the now universal need to screen my lot from your lot - because zoning and subdivision control has pigeonholed us all in our lots - we've encouraged the deer, which have encouraged the ticks.
We might have thought the diseases associated with ticks - Lyme, babesiosis, erlicheosis, et al - would have discouraged some of the braver ones who said, in effect, to hell with these pesky ticks. But, no.
The Island's rodents, durable co-inhabitants who sportingly outwit all rodent control efforts, have pitched in with tularemia, and you would have thought news of the threat of that sort of infection would have spoiled the place a bit for the visiting hordes. Nope.
Not that anyone hoped that visitors would contract these diseases. Not a bit. But some folks, enamored of even the nastiest of God's critters, have taken note of the, well, reverse publicity value they offer as semi-hidden dissuaders. Wouldn't want to harm such valuable pests, each and every one a link in the food chain.
Plus, there is the West Nile virus, discovered for the first time in a dead crow who was a resident of Vineyard Haven. Come on, it's not as if this crow never left town, never visited Oak Bluffs or Edgartown for a beer, or even Chilmark to watch the summer sunset. It's a regional problem, as some folks like to say. Crowing about this sort of potential health risk ought to discourage some of the pilgrims who might otherwise have hopped an expensive ferry - another discouragement, by the way, that hasn't panned out - for a trip to the summer isle. And, swine flu. We've got swine.
And, how about great white sharks, in Vineyard Sound and in deeper water south of the Vineyard? We're the monster shark tourney capital of the world, for crying out loud. There ought to be some discouragement in that. But, no.
I've often thought that the great white could serve some useful purpose, perhaps become a sort of perverse Martha's Vineyard mascot, the symbol of what's awaiting August visitors to the Island where the stars vacation. Besides the high prices, I mean.
We could replace that old seagull flag with one that features a smiling great white. Just a hint of a smile. A corona around him would feature images of ticks, deer, swine, crows, town zoning bylaw pamphlets. And, beneath the image, "If the ticks don't get you, the great white will."