Harmony, the town where I was born in 1963, is a farming community in the Appalachian mountains. During my childhood Washington DC, just 60 miles north, felt a world away. When I left, at the age of 25, the place had changed fundamentally.
I grew up in a village with unpaved roads, which has now been subsumed into the commuter belt. A motorway was built and, seemingly overnight, the town quadrupled in size. Water and electricity reached places they had never been before, roads were widened and, along with this, the extraordinary nature of the countryside, its sheer remote beauty - deep forest, wild animals and intense silence - all but vanished within one generation.
There was a really powerful, elemental side to my childhood; there was always a need to mind the weather, as life was lived outdoors. Hard work (an early start, early finish) and the getting and gathering of food dictated the shape of the day. Today the area where I grew up is home to just one functioning farm. The inhabitants are not responsible for supplying their own food in the way that they once were and this has changed life completely.
On the upside, there won't be as many serious accidents. People losing fingers and toes in farming machinery was something that characterised my childhood. The corn-picker was the worst. It had two gigantic prongs at the front that would regularly jam and you'd think nothing of sticking an arm in to fix it, only the limb wouldn't always come out again. The volunteer fire department would send an ambulance to take you to the nearest village but things …