“It is a disaster that wisdom forbids you to be satisfied with yourself and always sends you away dissatisfied and fearful, whereas stubbornness and foolhardiness fill their hosts with joy and assurance.”
~Michel de Montaigne
The petition first circulated last summer to preserve our Monastery has, over the past year, garnered roughly 7,000 signatures, and the majority of those autographs were penned by Cumberland residents. Yet, one year later here we are with our hungry mayor plowing ahead, gaping at Cumberland Monastery’s open fields and woodland of what might be (if he’s allowed to reap) his delicious alfresco repast.
Raking Monastery land in the name of (what some people believe is) progress is hardly a novel idea. Rather, in this contemporary and environmentally conscientious world, it’s viewed as backwards and irresponsible—especially in light of the fact that Cumberland has several other viable but unconsidered options on which to site its “safety complex.” Mayor Murray’s refusal to bend the narrow criteria he set for determining a feasible location demonstrates an obstinance that suggests he will stop at nothing in order to destroy a good portion of Cumberland’s most cherished and most accessible open space—forest and pastureland protected in perpetuity by a 2004 Conservation Easement and Restrictive Covenant crafted specifically to prohibit the development of any portion of the green and lush Monastery for any purpose whatsoever.
No matter, the mayor and some other town leaders forge ahead with this short-sighted, banal plan as if there were no obstacle, only a little inconvenient Easement and unreasonable citizens demanding that the land remain untouched, as it were from the time the Easement was signed.
But we are not unreasonable. We are practical and caring. We recognize the importance of saving every square inch of the Monastery’s land and the implication should all those square inches not be saved. And why wouldn’t we want all 525 acres of this historically and environmentally significant land protected? What has changed since the Easement was drafted in 2004? If anything, what has changed is Cumberland’s landscape, the development of much of our accessible land and open space, the destruction of historical structures, the continued failure to maintain town-owned existing (some historical) structures and land. If anything, what we have learned most from the past is that our future, our open space, must be protected. As more humans consume raw land, the more populated our town becomes; thus, the more open space, or refuge, we will need for the purpose of escaping the noise and pollution and commerce of our overdeveloped town. Should that refuge not be located in the center of town, rather than the constant hum and whirl of a safety complex and, surely, the ensuing sprawl of other municipal buildings?
Refuge: a place of protection or shelter from trouble or danger; anything to which one has recourse for aid, relief or escape. Right now, Cumberland has various lots of open space around town, but many, if not most, are wetland or are difficult to access. The Monastery offers a highly accessible place where we may indulge our essential human need for refuge, seek those quiet moments in nature, the necessary and healing escape, the shelter and relief from the storm of our congested and oft confusing world. It is the Monastery that offers us the very best aid, the sort that rejuvenates mind, body and spirit.
On the eve of June 25, 2015 the Safety Complex Location Committee voted (dubiously 8 to 3) to advance the Monastery to the final list of safety complex locations after one member (fiercely arguing that the Monastery was “not eligible for consideration” while simultaneously reassuring the members that Murray would protect the remainder of the Monastery land) successfully assuaged feelings of culpability. Also on the final list is the old Drop Zone (if combined with the existing Sher-Le-Mon property), and the parcel(s) of land to the rear of Cumberland House of Pizza (strip center) off Mendon Road, as well as the National Grid site.
The 8 to 3 recommendation gave Murray—in his estimation—the green light to begin the safety complex planning phase (and other municipal buildings) on the quiet northeastern portion of Monastery land. Fortunately, there are hurdles over which Murray must leap. And Murray has noted one: he is not permitted to spend more than $5,000. for legal fees in connection with revoking the Easement, though we are not certain whether or not Murray may spend any funds of any nature, and we will closely monitor our town’s activity, as well as confirm precisely what is permissible.
Murray has also voiced his concern over three of the remaining four sites (too complex, too wet, too many environmental issues, too this or that) but interestingly, the Monastery land is considered the best option despite its many obvious constraints, such as ledge, slope, wetlands, etc—never mind the Easement itself. None of the four sites have had any impact studies or due diligence performed and, during the last six months, 26 sites were summarily dismissed without performing impact studies or due diligence (something the town refused to pursue) for reasons that were far less serious than a Conservation Easement.
One year later, not a penny has been spent on due diligence, except, perhaps, surveys done on Monastery land. (And Murray has interviewed outside attorneys.)
At the same time, we are hearing that some of our Town Council members do not support legal action for the purpose of developing Monastery land. They, unlike the mayor, have been listening to their constituents, and we are most grateful for this.
The problem is obvious. Our mayor will not budge, will not consider revitalizing buildings or lots in need of care, will not entertain sites that contain less acreage, or sites outside the precise center of town, nor will he recognize the worth of the Monastery in its present form—that is, as 525 acres of much needed refuge.
How is refuge valued? Who will buy homes in Cumberland in the years to come? Why would someone purchase a home in a place where protected land, a refuge (paid by the taxpayers of this town) is easily taken, stripped bare and paved over? Imagine Cumberland without the Monastery as it is now. Imagine its northeastern buffer gone—sloping forest, swaying ferns, vernal pools, streams, gentle stone walls—swallowed by machines of avarice. Every last morsel.
There will be no leftovers, only the bitter taste of stone cold buildings sprouting from deadened earth. Swallow hard. Let it slide down the long and slimy tube of progress, burning your chest, churning your stomach.
Digest. Down, down, downward.
Once the descent, the downward process, has squeezed every last bit of beauty out of the raw material, what remains, the end form, surely looks familiar. And, beyond question, stinks.