Grieving the loss of a small bit of nature in my neighborhood

By Alex Farr (Sea Oats Chapter member)

I first saw the sign on a walk around the block, on my way to the corner swamp.  "Oh, no.  This can't be good!"....flashed through my mind, and all of the horrors of the bulldozer followed that thought.  But that was in October, still not much building happening, and anyway, with all this talk of global warming, water rising, huge hurricanes, impossible insurance rates (if any insurance at all), would  make these lots a hard sell.

How hard would it be to sell these lots?

Late February---I heard that all too familiar sound of beep, beep, beep, diesel engines, swoosh, the sickening sound of trees falling.  But I was off to work, not time to investigate.  Turning down my little lane that afternoon, I was horrified to be able to see the next street over, and the condo's on the next street.  The trees and entangled growth that blocked that view were gone.  It was the site of that For Sale sign back in October!

I realized how complacency had also settled in over the 25 years I have lived in this wonderful little pocket of a neighborhood.  My home was built in 1920, built lightly on the beach as a "social club," a place for families and friends to gather for a day at the beach.  A very few small, bare bones cottages followed, clustered at the end of a dirt road, with large areas of native growth untouched.  These spaces were part of the property owned by the handful of people who had built their beach place out here.  Very little changed, some porches were enclosed, and a few conveniences added.  The dirt road was paved not too long ago, and the dunes have shifted even further inland, and the ocean began lapping at doorsteps.  Ocean front property---now it must be protected by beach "nourishment."  But with this latest intrusion, I was outraged.

Grieving the loss
And the grieving process is now ongoing.  It isn't about the loss of privacy, the more populated neighborhood, wondering what kind of junky houses might be going up.  What was lost is something that is becoming critical to our own existence.  Loss of habitat.  The homes of marsh rabbits, tortoise, snakes, hawks and song birds, frogs and toads, and those pesky raccoons and opossums, are now destroyed.  Loss of monarda, one of the best plants for our pollinators, red cedars, wax myrtles, hollies, wild blackberries, climbing asters, gallardia, dune sunflower, and various grasses...just the few I would see see from the edge of the thicket until now.  Most beach goers and new home owners aren't even aware of the variety of plants we do have growing naturally right up to the dunes.  Our new neighbors-to-be- probably never even saw those plants, and if they did, it wasn't a tidy little affair, so it wasn't significant.

The homeowner who backs up to this nightmare had discovered  the new owners live up north, the wife is on assignment in Africa, and their new "beach" house will have a nice big wall around the perimeter of the property, enclosing the cement deck of a pool in back, and parking space and garage in the front.  My hopes that maybe some native landscape would be in the picture were squashed!
While it may be too late to do much about this tragedy, and we are not politically powerful when up against the money of a developer,  we must become more vigilant.  Digging up plants?  Relocating animals?  You bet I would be there, along with a few other neighbors...if only we had gotten honest information in time to act.  Could we have started as soon as the For Sale sign appeared?  Would we need the approval of the seller, could we get it?  I don't know, but I will risk threats of trespassing charges next time.

And would a letter to the new neighbors be in order, a friendly "chat" about the benefits of our native plants, even if they are in a pot or three?  I'll let you know.
Time for a chat about the beauty of natives?

I still have too many questions.  What are yours?  And how do you feel about the continuing development in our state, especially where you live?  We can only start in our own neighborhood.  And that really does help.

~ ~ ~

Thanks Alex for sharing your story. We would love to share your native plant and native habitat stories, too. Contact us at if you have a story idea.

Story and photos by Alex Farr.
Posted by Ginny Stibolt


Gail Spratley said…
Alex, I feel your pain. The area where I grew up has been completely transformed. Gone are the woods, the meadows, the streams the ponds. And so the creatures that I observed in their natural setting are gone as well. So, I agree with your conclusion - the time to act is at the first hint; not to wait to be asked - you won't be asked! I hope it works out for you and your neighborhood.

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