Imagine a world without open spaces


(Editor’s note: This column appeared in the February 7, 2008, Farm and Dairy.)

“To walk to the west, toward the setting sun, while birds sing their twilight songs, is to find serenity for the soul and reason to look with joy toward another day.”

— John Turlington, 1931

Imagine, if you dare, living in the middle of a large city on the 12th floor of a high-rise apartment complex. What would each day be like for you?

I once talked with a woman from New York who was considering adding a puppy to her life, and she called to inquire if we had any puppies available. She lived in those very circumstances, and I asked how she would go about housebreaking a puppy.

“Oh, people do it. I would probably go with litter-box training because there is honestly no grass within several blocks of my apartment,” was her reply.

No grass. How in the world do humans live this way? And how do dogs survive without wide open grassy spaces to explore?

Picture it

I tried to imagine it. I pictured waking up and heading out to cement and blacktop and asphalt and cars and people as far as the eye could see, with high-rise buildings blocking the view of the horizon.

It wouldn’t work for me, I can say with certainty. I might survive, but the soul would certainly suffer. I look out my window to grass poking up through a light covering of snow and see towering trees bending in the winter wind.

The occasional scrambling, tree-climbing squirrel adds life to the view and, this morning, I can see the faintest snowfall frosting the ancient pine trees. Even the lifeless weedy cattails lining the pond add interest to the picture from my perch here at the computer, and serve as a reminder that warm weather will return one day, bringing life back to our corner of the world.

Studies have been done that suggest rage and crime rises along with segments of society where overpopulation places people in such tight quarters that they feel somewhat imprisoned by their circumstances.

Does that surprise any of us? My most memorable interview ever was with Col. Paul Kari, the longest-held prisoner of war in Vietnam. He said that dreams of standing out in the middle of his boyhood family farm, wide-open spaces in every direction, was the only thing that gave him peace while imprisoned in a tiny cell so horrific it remained beyond description.


When he returned home, so malnourished that he battled temporary blindness, his goal was to return to that home farm as soon as he was well enough.

In time, he bought the farm next door to it and spent enjoyable hours farming the wide-open land.

“It is the best medicine anyone could give to me,” he told me.

The one thing he simply could not do, however, was close the door on his tractor cab.

“It makes me claustrophobic to the point of panic,” he explained.

The cab on that John Deere remained propped open whenever Kari was in it. Kari said he never complained about mowing the grass or even pulling weeds because the work came as part of the gift of fine, free, open country living.

If the choice is endless concrete or blooming weeds, I’ll take the weeds any day!


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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