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Allergic to Nature; Pulp Non-Fiction

One of the treasures of the Mid-Atlantic region is the C&O Canal, which runs for 184.5 miles from Georgetown to Cumberland, Md., and was once called the Great National Project (now it's the central element of the C&O Canal National Historical Park). It's our local Great Wall of China.

Upstream from Great Falls, just beyond Swain's Lock, the hiker/biker on the towpath will see mansions on the Maryland bluff. I am not a purist: The sight of human activity does not strike me as inauthentic, as we discussed just a couple of days ago. But there is a point at which human activity along the river becomes repulsive. That point often involve trees: Some mansion-dwellers insist on hacking down all the trees that block their view of the river. But this is right on the edge of a national park, and in many cases the private property is in the gorge itself, part of the ecosystem. The trees cut down on erosion and give the park much of its character. Makes it park-like, as opposed to Housing Development-like, or Walking In Someone's Backyard-like.

Everyone knows about the Dan Snyder case -- he cut down more than 130 trees, making his mansion a ghastly spectacle on the palisade near Swain's. Now, just upstream from Snyder, comes a rich developer who wants to cut down some trees on the grounds that his kids are allergic to nuts:

"A developer wants to cut down a swath of trees where he is building a home overlooking the C&O Canal in Potomac, arguing that the Americans with Disabilities Act gives him the right because his two young children are allergic to nuts on the trees."

To which a couple of citizens have a response:

' "This would be a bad place to raise children who have an allergy to nuts whether he cuts down some of the trees or not," wrote Rockville residents John and Judy Mathwin to the county planning board.'

I don't know the degree to which the government (federal, state or county) can tell someone that he or she can't cut down a bunch of trees. In general I like the idea that I can do with my property* whatever I want to do with it -- build a Wiffle Ball stadium, erect a cellphone tower that looks vaguely like a pine tree, set up a oil derrick or a Ferris wheel or a roller coaster. I've thought of putting up a Sea Dragon ride like the one at Funland (that just barely misses the house on the property.) [JoelWorld: I like the sound of it.]

But I don't live on the bluff overlooking the river! You press up against a public space, you have to behave differently. It's common courtesy.

These billionaires today: No class, I tell ya.

* Weirdly, I don't have any trees to speak of -- just a tiny maple, a feeble cherry, a crepe myrtle that's really probably technically a bush, and a pint-sized oak that's a volunteer near the back fence. The previous owners hated trees, apparently. (Despite peer pressure, they refused to celebrate Arbor Day.)


One reason to buy the actual newspaper -- the reconstituted tree version [don't give me a big speech about praising trees in one item and glorifying their pulping in the next!] -- is that you see things that for whatever reason are buried online. For example, here's the Letter of the day (scroll down):

In the June 26 front-page article "A Strong Push From Backstage," former White House lawyer Bradford A. Berenson was quoted as saying the president likes "guiding the ship of state from high up on the mast." Unfortunately, he lost his footing some time ago and has been hanging from the rigging upside down. Meanwhile, the vice president is down below, ensconced in a cabin, his Global Positioning System device stored in a massive safe. The only other holder of the combination is now headed for prison.

"Sail on, O Ship of State."

Guy should be a blogger. [No, wait, we don't need more competition.]

I talked several times this week with the folks about how to take the Achendrivel to a new level of greatness. You know what the Schemer says: "You need a gimmick." He doesn't buy the Conscience Of My Generation concept. The Schemer's view is that the current format of the A-blog (random gibberish, transcripts, travelogues, My Mood Today, recipes, The Daily Crab Grass Report, snippets from snobby New York-based magazines, and the kind of digressive observations that Von Drehle calls "toenail clippings") is crippled by its lack of predictability.

The Schemer has moved on to other ventures and schemes at, and there's a new guy, known as the New Guy, who is in charge of the "opinion" blogs. Apparently the A-blog is an opinions blog even though we abjure opinion and for the most part hold them in contempt. The society is drowning in opinions: We prefer hard facts, evidence, data, and our own irrefutable "take" on things. We do arch commentary and wry observation. With the occasional jocular aside.

Anyway, the New Guy wants me to blog about stuff that's coming up in Outlook (my current assignment, until someone kicks my can further down the road), and so you might want to look tomorrow for a preview (if I get around to it!!) of what you can read in the paper Sunday. (I may have a story on Doubt. Also I think there's going to be something about the Supreme Court -- or is that giving away too much information to the competition???)

By Joel Achenbach  |  June 28, 2007; 7:07 AM ET
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