View, interrupted: It's unneighborly to start a row
Oh, you should have seen me. It was a double-take right out of vaudeville. (Had I been drinking from my water bottle, I guarantee it would have been a spit-take.) As I skidded to a flailing stop on my Nikes, all I could think was: What the hell? Why are they doing this?
I’d been blissfully running along Wesley Chapel Road in Albemarle County. It’s a gorgeous place to walk or run or drive– or live. Gorgeous, thanks to the views of our graceful rural landscape.
Locals and tourists alike know the feeling: You’re moving down the road, past rolling farmland dotted with cows, or hay bales, or horses, thinking how lovely it all is, when you round a curve and suddenly there’s that blue backdrop, our famous Blue Ridge Mountains.
I’ve been here for twenty years, and it still makes me gasp. Farmland, foothills, the Blue Ridge: Central Virginia is a feast for the eyes.
Those views are a big part of our sense of place, our quality of life– and our property values. Those long vistas are the gems that enticed my husband and me to uproot our family from suburban Baltimore all those years ago. It was an irrational decision, based only on our attraction to the beauty of Albemarle County.
And lately, with snow on the mountains, the view is so spectacular, you could lose your mind.
But a few weeks ago, as I happily trotted along Wesley Chapel, anticipating the view of snow-blanketed mountains, I came upon a dreadful sight:
All along the edge of the street, a line of newly-planted cedar trees stood, like a phalanx of guards, between me and the mountain view. Of course, these trees are still small, and you can peer between them to find the view. But they are planted close together and the intent is obvious: To prevent anyone from seeing past those damned trees.
Why are they doing this? A few days later, when I drove by to count the trees–there are more than sixty cedars in this particular row–I saw a couple of landscapers planting more trees.
I was glad they had the work, but wished they were doing something less damaging to the quality of life around here. I asked them why the owners were engaged in this viewshed-blocking activity. The answer was “privacy.”
Privacy? Really? Having fled from the suburbs, I understand the craving for privacy. Our house in Maryland was a mere eleven feet from our neighbor’s.
But when a house is set well back from a rural road, and surrounded by a great many acres (dozens? hundreds?), it’s hard to understand the need for additional layers of privacy.
I passed about 40 trees in this row of sentinels before arriving at a point where I could see the house. What sort of privacy is required for acres and acres of fields? Perhaps a nudist colony is in the works.
If this were the only spot where such a thing had happened, it might not be so alarming.
But it’s not. There’s another vast tract of land in Free Union (one formerly owned by Edgar Bronfman) where the same thing has been done. From the road, you can enjoy the sight of lovely rolling fields, with mountains in the distance.
Well, you can see that now, because the cedars were planted just a couple of months ago. But soon, yet another vista that makes your heart soar will slowly disappear behind a wall of view-blocking trees.
Whenever I drive past, I wonder why they would do this to us: take away what we most cherish about living out here.
I also wonder whether they have a clue about how they're perceived by their neighbors.
When newcomers buy property, it’s only natural to want to modify it in some way, to personalize it. I like to think that, if they knew how alienating it is to their neighbors, they wouldn’t choose to accomplish this by screening their property – and the mountains beyond – from public view.
Do they want to be a part of the community, or do they want to wall it out?
In a few years, if this keeps up, our excursions through the countryside will consist of driving through opaque corridors of cedars.
The next time you’re driving around in Central Virginia, notice those rows of trees. They are all over the place.
Usually, they’re cedars. As they age, in addition to efficiently blocking the view, they become shaggy and unattractive. Beyond them lie views you didn’t even know you were missing.
I am not anti-tree. I’d be happy to see those same cedar root balls sunk into the ground at some spot away from the road, and not in a defensive line.
Meanwhile, if you should see me in my running togs, sprawled on a street in Albemarle County, you’ll know I’ve come upon the loss of yet another spectacular view. Double-takes while running are downright dangerous.Read more on: janis jaquith