I suppose Great Barrington, the small New England town where I run Berkshire Publishing, might be said to qualify as one of the greenest places on earth. Not only because it is so beautifully, lushly, abundantly green right now, but because it’s in the heart of the only region on the planet that has been reforested over the last century or so. I was stunned by this when I first moved to New England in 1991. England, where I’d lived till then, is of course a “green and pleasant land.” But it’s far more densely built than even this densely built part of the United States. On my first drive down to Yale, through the backroads of Connecticut, I couldn’t get over how much open land there was, fields and hillsides and river meadows. The reason is quite simple: when the West was opened, with far more fertile farmland than these rocky hills offer, people left, and the trees grew back. The woods are filled with the roughly piled stone walls that used to delineate pasture from farmland.
But I saw another kind of greening recently, in Beijing. My son Tom thinks Beijing is going to be the greenest city on earth, as the planting continues. There are small and large gardens everywhere. In the hutong where he lives, there is a charming garden strung along the outside, a welcome relief in the June heat. There are much larger gardens nearby, and in Dongzhimen, where I stayed, we saw canals being restored with extensive plantings along the pathways. The healthiness of the trees surprised me: it’s a fierce climate, but with the right trees, a city can be made more beautiful, and more liveable.
Here’s a little more about New England, from “Thoreau’s country: a historical, ecological perspective on conservation in the New England landscape” by David R. Foster:
. . . many parts of the New England landscape have become wilder and more strongly dominated by natural processes (McLachlan et al., 2000). Forest area increased dramatically through the mid-twentieth century and, with forest growth exceeding harvests (a fact still true for most of the eastern USA except northern Maine and portions of the southeast; Irland, 1999), a vast expanse of maturing forest covers much of the land.