If you read one thing today, check out Veronique Greenwood’s thoughtful, engaging rumination on how space and density affect everything from agriculture to social values. I’d link to this piece even if she hadn’t namechecked me.
Can we develop this kind of ethos in countries that aren’t Switzerland? One day in October, I tossed around the idea with my father, an ecologist from Massachusetts, and the Valaisan farmer Charles-André Mudry, his wife, Doris, and their son Xavier. When they are not at the alpage, they live in the town of Lens, reachable by a bus that crawls in a determined zig-zag up the steep valley wall. Mudry had just come in from selling a calf; Doris, who told me about fashions in cow naming, served tea and cookies.
Xavier suggested that in terms of political structure, the US and Switzerland are not so different: each has states and a central power. But we kept coming back to the enormity of the difference in size. My father pointed out that you can see the high mountains from Sion, the capitol of Valais. You cannot see Wisconsin from Washington. And the tradition in the US (such as it is) is to change the use of the land without regard to the past or the long-term effects, if that’s what market forces demand.
‘Where I grew up, 100 years ago, 150 years ago, it was an agricultural landscape. Now it’s forest,’ my father said. ‘It was all changed by the production in the West … There are walls that cross the forest. You can see that clearly, there were fields here, 100 years ago. We have a past, but it disappears before we can take the measure of it.’