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A home on the side of the highway

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POSTED: April 13, 2008 5:00 a.m.

I was driving to work earlier this week and saw a large, beautiful white egret fly out of the woods and over Hwy. 17.

I think it's the first time I've ever seen a bird like that - the kind of bird that should be frozen in the middle of a picturesque marsh, patiently waiting for a fish - that close to a highway.

My first thought was, sadly, that the egret wasn't really in my world, I was in its world - as we've shaped it.

I'm basing this on the likely fact that there was a whole lot more marshland where Hwy. 17 currently is and the egret's former home could possibly be buried underneath a local business on the side of the highway.

I've recently been reading a fantastic book - I'd recommend it to any nerdy environmental person like myself - called A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.

The book is a first person narrative, non-fictional 'journal,' if you will, about Bryson's decision to hike the Appalachian Trail.

I'm about halfway through the book and he just decided that he's not going to hike the entire 2,000-some odd mile trek. He made it from Georgia to nearly Nashville and is currently driving to Virginia, where he'll start hiking again (I assume). The book is full of so many interesting facts, I've honestly found it fascinating.

Last night, Bryson informed me that half of all - yes, all - the offices and malls standing in America today were built no later than 1980 - that's just a few years older than me and I'd like to think I'm not that old. Eighty percent of all the nation's housing stock dates back to 1945. And of all the motel rooms in America, 230,000 were built in the last 15 years. We've been awfully busy people, haven't we?

Another one of Bryson's tidbits of information immediately came to mind when I saw that egret fly over the highway this week.

While my first thought was that the egret was crossing Hwy. 17 out of a lack of its own natural territory, Bryson gave me a little good news.

Bryson points out that - despite the fact that it might sometimes seem like we're working in overdrive to develop every last corner of the earth - there is actually quite a lot of nature left. I found this to be very heartening. In fact - it genuinely made me feel better after I read it.

One-third of the landscape of the lower 48 states is covered in trees, estimated to be about 728 million acres in all. Maine alone has 10 million uninhabited acres - an area larger than the country of Belgium without a single resident.

But there's one slight problem: Bryson wrote this book in 1998.

I have concerns, in the last 10 years, about how much of that land has since been taken over by us... How many egrets have been left to make homes on the sides of highways?

 

Jessica Holthaus is a reporter for the Bryan County News.

 

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