Neighbors, where once there were cows

I am so familiar with the disturbing, repetitive dreams that I've given them a name – the "development angst" series. They have punctuated my nights on a fairly regular basis ever since an adjoining 70-acre tract of pasture and woodland lost its character as a farm.

About a year ago, our neighbor sold his beef cattle and then his green space. Within weeks, bulldozers began the work of carving up the tract into a subdivision for very large houses. One of the houses looms at our fence line as if to put the little maple-sugaring log cabin on our side to shame. (It does not.)

There were plenty of reasons, all argued passionately in town meetings, to leave the land open.

Like our 80 acres to the west, it sits on a ridge defining the watershed boundary of a fragile little lake, nearby Bloomington, Ind.'s, emergency water supply.

The narrow, twisting roads leading to and from the parcel of land were designed for light rural travel. (We used to go up and down Bethel Lane with our Belgian horses pulling a sleigh or a hay wagon.) But the roads had already become heavy with commuter traffic as area populations have grown.

Then there's the loss of habitat that additional development means for wildlife already desperate for niche space.

Nonetheless, the developer's plan was approved by a single vote – and that was that.

It is hard not to brood about what it means for our farm. Although protected by a conservation easement, it has lost its wild neighbor and some of the wide-open innocence embodied in the two big, combined pastures. We fret about off-road vehicles crossing the little wire boundary fence, and while we've always welcomed walkers, how will we feel if 50 or more new homeowners start roaming here, looking for a natural experience?

And so the dreams came. In one, I climb the hill to find the arched entrance to a new theme park – sprawling across our pasture.

In another, the little log cabin is swarmed by construction workers erecting water slides above and around it.

And in a dream just last night, I looked across the stream valley from the farmhouse to a field blazing with light. Every bedded or grazing cow was brilliantly visible, as were, oddly, football teams. When had our place been designated as practice fields? Who had installed the arc lamps? Dismayed, incredulous, I began to walk back to the area to oust the usurpers. But somewhere along the way, I woke up in bed to the chirping of crickets and deep, prevailing darkness.

After such dreams, I make a point of walking around our back pasture and drinking in the sights and sounds. Just now, as summer has waned, the ironweed quivers with luminosity as dozens of goldfinches and bluebirds flit among the head-high purple blooms.

The mowed paths have grown lush again, and the cows and deer wander along and across them at will, bedding down in deep, cushiony comfort.

Our pasture isn't as dark as it once was after sundown – the new development's streetlights spill over the boundary line. But it is still a pasture. It is almost worth the dreamed visions of loss to wake to that sweet reality.

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