April 6, 2009, De Bovenmolen, Kijfhoek, the Netherlands
When I was a kid, there was a house in the copse of poplars to the right. The people who lived there, a family of vegetable growers, were so withdrawn from the usual affairs of the village that a weird aura hung over the farm. Kids made up stories to explain their otherworldliness. They hid a raving madman in the attic or something like that.
It might not have been quite so extreme, but for sure this family was unusual. On a tour of the village dumpsites, the former alderman of public works told me that he visited these people in the early 1960s with an offer to connect them to water, sewer, and electric services for a reduced price. They declined. They collected rain water, threw their own waste on the dung heap, and lit their house with oil lamps. That was good enough for them. They did without electrical appliances, power tools, radio. Perhaps they used coal for heating and cooking or perhaps—to free themselves from the prying eyes of the coal delivery man—they occasionally chopped down a tree to feed a potbellied stove. Such simplicity may be fine for a monk, but for a tomato grower it is definitely unexpected.
When the people still lived there, simplicity and all, a little bridge spanned the river Devel where there is now an unbroken collar of reeds. And this side of the reeds, under the spring green grass, was another local garbage dump site, active from 1965 or so. The lion’s share of the village garbage went to Zwijndrecht and later to an incinerator in Rotterdam, but anything that was not picked up in regular rounds (because it didn’t fit in the garbage can, for instance) was dumped here.
The dump is a little higher than the surrounding land. A metal plate in the grass gives access, according to my alderman, to sampling equipment in the ground that makes it possible to monitor the latter-day activities of my leftovers. But this dump is not on any of the registers of monitored sites that I can find. Neither the national nor the provincial authorities have the Bovenmolen on any of their lists.
Despite the fact that it has been enriched with garbage, the area is being returned to Mother Nature, more or less. The house has been removed. You can’t cross the river to get into that copse unless you have a boat. If you look in the right direction, you don’t see the high-speed rail line which starts its descent into the underworld here to cross under the river Oude Maas nearby. The preserve is being reforested, after having been bare of trees except for windbreaks around farms for 600 or 700 years. It’s a modest effort and apparently progress has been halted, for now, by action groups who don’t agree with protocols.
On the whole, however, the entire scene speaks to a very different spirit from the way of things some 40 or 50 years ago. I’m almost inclined to grow cautiously optimistic.