What is land worth?

Winter is almost here and the field beyond the auction sign looks like a desert. Corn stalks as tumbleweeds. Lifeless soil, dusty as sand. Vultures feasting on mammals that couldn’t outrun the reaping. 

It’s a windy day in Indiana, and if you picked up a handful of dirt and threw it into the air, it would blow to the highway? The next county? The Sahel?

Yesterday a mammal lifted a bidding number and bid $15,000 per acre for the land. To be clear, the animal was a human. Although the mental image of a raccoon lifting up a number with its five, long, tapered raccoon hands, little nails scratching on the paper, is one I’d like to sit with for a spell. 

If the raccoon placed the winning bid, it wouldn’t plant the field with soybeans and corn like the human farmers, who, if they were lucky, would profit $400 per acre per year and take 37.5 years to equal the initial investment. The raccoon would let the land do what it wants to do. Let the seed bank grow. No plow. No poison. 

The mustard plants would paint the fields yellow, the henbit and deadnettle purple. A succession from a grassland of wildflowers to bushes, trees, and then a hardwood forest. A friend’s mother paints such landscapes. Her paintings sell for $2,000.

A proper raccoon wonderland. The rabbits would do what rabbits do and the hawks and eagles and owls would feast. The micorogranisms in the soil would explode, decompose, give life. The soil would grow. 

All of this life. And none of them would think to thank the raccoon or ask how a raccoon got its financing. 

What would a human banker think? All those roots and life in the way. All those weeds. How unproductive. An acre of woods in Indiana is only worth one thousand human dollars, 1/15th of the bare land.  

It takes 500 years to build an inch of topsoil, which each rain and gust of wind deducts from the field’s account. There’s only so much soil and oil. The land won’t stand being treated like a Chia Pet. A sprinkle of fertility mined from distant lands. Magic chemicals losing their magic.  

The human bankers and bidders don’t realize it, but they can’t outrun the reaping either. The ledger is out of balance. The raccoon knows something they’ve forgotten. Land isn’t an investment. Land is home. The more dollars it’s worth to one human, the less it’s worth to all other life.

Land isn’t worth $15,000 per acre. It’s worth everything. Futures of everythings. 

A single industrious raccoon could grow more than $400 per acre.


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