Foothills Forum Survey, Part Three: Frozen in time?

Phil Irwin, who cofounded RLEP, set up the county's first easement on his farm outside Flint Hill in 1973.

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The late Phil Irwin has been fondly remembered and eulogized by nearly everyone here. Though he can’t speak tonight, we do know what he did say over the years. 

We recall the story wherein Odysseus and his crew, having wandered the Aegean for years, approach the treacherous waters of the Seirenes, alluring nymphs who weave “a haunting song,” which in its intoxication lures ships’ crews off course to unknown fates.

Odysseus knows all will be lost if he succumbs to this sweet, irresistible music — but in his insatiable curiosity yearns to hear it anyway. So he plugs the crews’ ears with beeswax, first instructing them to tie him fast to the mast, with orders to ignore his fiercest demands and most ferocious entreaties to untie him once in the Seirenes’ spell.

As the crew rows on the Seirenes surround them, singing…

“This way, oh turn your bows, this way.”

But the crew cannot hear them. They row on until, as Homer says, “the Seirenes dropped under the sea rim, and their singing dwindled away.”

His faithful crew stove their oars, removed the wax from their ears and set Odysseus free. Had he not been tied so securely to his own ship’s mast, he knows with conviction he would have followed the Seirenes’ call wherever they would have led.

Our old pal Phil Irwin listened to it all. For decades he heard every scheme, plan, proposal, project and study sung with such decorous, intoxicating and seductive music by the improvers’ siren chorus. The mast he had tied himself to was this place, Rappahannock County. He would not cut the ropes that bound him to its protection. He knew that the siren song could be intense, even irresistible. And over the years he knew just how insistent and relentless it could be.

He knew with the sage of an ancient wanderer just how special this place is and how easily it can be dashed on the rocks of “progress” and “development.” He knew, like Odysseus when he had finally arrived home, that this place was his Ithaca, worthy of his defense. He knew moreover, what lies at the end of the road that’s paved with good intentions.

As we know, the genius of Homer is that he speaks to us even now, even here, in our little corner of the world. In Phil Irwin we had an Odysseus in our midst. Let us not forget it anytime soon. 

— The writer, a resident of Flint Hill, read the above commentary submission at the Dec. 29, 2020 meeting of the Rappahannock County Planning Commission.

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