March 2, 2001 (Ira Pilgrim)


Few are the urban dwellers, even among the sensitive, who realize that they hardly ever experience fragrant air or a starry night. Most of us become oblivious to the filth, visual confusion, dirt, and outright ugliness that we encounter morning and night on our way to and from the office.

Rene Dubos, 1968

A few years ago I took a trip to Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York City. It was the last trip that I shall ever make to that part of our country. I had forgotten how ugly and filthy it is. Yet, while there, in a few days I was used to it.

As I rode a train from Philadelphia to Newark, I passed mile after mile of the ugliest scenery that I have ever seen. It was as if I was in a capsule traveling through one gigantic wasteland with garbage strewn around and ugly box-shaped houses. The interior of the train seemed pleasant by comparison. I think of the words of the song America, "Oh, beautiful for spacious skies." Not here! The west has little to compare with it except, perhaps, Los Angeles and parts of the San Francisco Bay Area. But just give it time.

I would not suggest that people leave these places. Living where I do is difficult. I have to make my own electricity, collect and pump water, do my own repairs, cut firewood. The summers are hot, the winters are cold and snowy, and there are earthquakes and rattlesnakes, bears and mountain lions; as well as deer that could eat my garden if they got past the electric fence. So, to you city dwellers I say "Stay where you are; don't come here because if you do, you will, among other things, bring all of the ugliness and the filth with you.

I remember my childhood in The Bronx. The air was breathable then. Bronx Park was a place where I could wander in, day or night, in relative safety. There were trees and flowers, running streams and the quiet beauty of the natural world. When I returned after The Great War, I realized that that the beauty of the world of nature was available to me only if I chose to live away from the ugliness of the cities. Consequently, I decided to go to college as far away from New York City as I could get. Hawaii wasn't a state yet, so I decided on California. I had no idea what kind of a school the University of California at Berkeley was. I lucked out, as I have a number of times, and got a fine education, mostly at the government's expense.

Cities have been getting progressively worse, so that now they are crowded way beyond their actual capacity.

I stayed with an old friend with whom I had gone high school in The Bronx. He lives across the Hudson river in Secaucus, New Jersey and can see the Manhattan skyline across the river. The view of New York from the other side of the Hudson River is lovely. But it is a mistake to get any closer.

Next column

Return to the Environment Home Page

Return to Ira's Home Page