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A Survey of Progress


I am on my way to town in silence. Getting a head start on my Lenten intention to reduce the noise in my life, I’ve decided that the car will be a no noise zone. No radio. No podcast. No telephone. Like the blind woman whose hearing becomes more acute in the absence of sight, I am hoping I will see better in the absence of incessant sound. What I see at the moment is the way the late winter sun bounces off the windshields of the passing cars, the way it casts shadows shaped like road signs across the asphalt, and the way it has made the land drying out from the recent deluge crusty and sharp. For nearly fifty years I have watched the sun, the shadows, the sharp. This morning, though, it is different. There has been an addition to the landscape. Something new at which to stare. A parade of blue and green surveyor’s flags march along the right of way like a Lilliputian drill team, each one thin and straight, hoisting into the sky a brightly colored banner that snaps in the wind like a sheet on a clothes line. Behind them, farther removed from the apron of the road, a sign protrudes from what used to be – what has always been as – a field. It announces that the acres will soon be covered with concrete and metal, that they will be the home of a corporation whose name is a made-up word, nothing more than a series of hard syllables. Progress, they call it. It is important to make clear that I am not opposed to the corporation. Or the progress. Still, it’s only fair to acknowledge that change is never easy and when it comes to land, well, as Daddy always says, they ain’t makin’ no more. Once they turn cotton fields into parking lots there’s no going back. I shake my head, turn my thoughts back to the flags. There’s something about them, something familiar. A story that is trying to retell itself. And, then, I remember: Years ago, when I finally acquiesced to the fact that I wasn't too good for satellite television, I had to get the co-op to come out and place flags along the path of underground power lines that run into my house so that the satellite people didn’t plunge me into darkness or, worse, the absence of air conditioning by digging where they should not. It seemed to be going to a lot of trouble, I thought. Couldn’t just about anybody, I thought, draw a straight line from the power pole that stood sentinel at the edge of the field to the box outside the house? Based upon the forms I had fill out and the time it took to get an appointment, the answer to that question was no. So, the nice gentleman from the co-op came when he said he would and, in a matter of about three minutes, established, by the poking of bright pink flags across my yard, the location of the lines sending a very clear message of “Don't dig here.” A negative imperative. A warning that if you do, you will be sorry. There have been moments, I find myself thinking, that it would have been helpful to have my own personal survey crew. Somebody to have gone ahead of me as I encountered treacherous terrain, somebody to mark the places I had no busy digging. Somebody to plant colorful little flags along the path, gentle reminders to watch my step. Now that, I can’t help thinking, that would be progress.


Copyright 2023

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