Monday, July 23, 2012

Reflections on Virginia #2

On a lighter note than my last post, earlier in the day that we visited Petersburg National Battlefield we enjoyed a tour of Shirley Plantation outside Charles City.  Our tour guide was interesting and the plantation's hostess was extremely conscientious in her duties:

I could spend time on the subject of slavery and I'm sure I will by the time this series of reflections is over, because it's necessary and tremendously important.  For the present, however, and because I was impressed by this plantation's owners' willingness to own up to their slaveholding past I am interested in another topic: longevity.  

The Shirley Plantation is intriguing because it is one of few such sites to remain in private hands -- and to be more specific, in the hands of the current generation of a family which has owned it since the mid-1600s.  We toured the first floor... the present Mr. Carter lives on floors 2 and 3.  

This level of rootedness is impressive for the United States, and particularly impressive from a West Coast perspective.  The current farmers of this land do not grow tobacco... because after some ill-informed uncles nearly despoiled the land growing this hard-on-the-soil crop in the mid-1700s, the heir forbade it, having invested considerable time and effort in salvaging his patrimony.  How many of us would consider ourselves bound by dictates delivered by an ancestor over 250 years ago?

Longevity confers roots.  Roots can in turn confer negative resistance to change, but roots can also mean stewardship and identity.  We tend to care more about that which we will have to continue to live with.  In our disposable culture that strikes me as a value with significant merit.  For most of us, nearly 400 years' residence on the same plot of land is going to be a tad unfeasible, and such residence does not, of course, guarantee good stewardship.  The type of rootedness that does generate good stewardship, though, is something worth nurturing.  We are connected to our past; we are also connected to our future.

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