According to Wikipedia, “‘commons’ refers to the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water and a habitable earth. … The commons contains public property and private property, over which people have certain traditional rights.”
I got to thinking about this term while reading an article by Jonathan Rowe in Utne Reader (“Our Hidden Wealth,” May/June 2013). It’s a concept I’ve always admired at the plazas in New Mexico and appreciated in photos of the “meeting tree” in “developing” nations.
“Centuries ago the concept of private property emerged as a means of liberation. It helped break the shackles of royal power and served as a bulwark against the state. But as Jefferson intuited, taken too far, private property becomes another version of what it once opposed,” wrote Jonathan Rowe, the author of “Our Common Wealth.”
While commons refers to much more than simply a piece of land, I wanted to apply the term to something we have here in Cambria, here where my kids grew up, where I am indefinitely. I want to know that this asset will not disappear for my boys or those to come after them.
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My younger son and his friends are all now arriving home for the summer. I had the extreme heart-warming pleasure of hosting a small handful for breakfast yesterday morning. The group included some who had stayed home, some who ventured out across the country in the military and some friends of that young man, also in the military, who I welcomed gladly. Where were they off to after all the pancakes?
The Cove. Beginning of summer, end of summer, birthdays and other impromptu celebrations (or, just plain, gawd-it’s-a-beautiful-day gatherings) — it’s the place to go. We’ve raised our kids together at the water’s edge, held community volleyball tournaments “BC” (before children!), and solved all manner of world issues over a barbecue. Definitely the commons, something we’ve all fought hard to maintain, especially in the face of proposed development by the Hearst Corporation years ago.
How fortunate we are that the community was able to rally and actually secure the future of some semblance of open space — commons — in Cambria by acquiring the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. We have the length of the coast. We have pockets of share-able resources at places like Washburn Trail.
“What they have in common is that they all “belong” to all of us, if that is the word. No one has exclusive rights to them. We inherit them jointly and hold them in trust for those who come after us. We are “temporary possessors and life renters,” as Edmund Burke wrote, and we “should not think it amongst (our) rights to commit waste on the inheritance.”
And so, as our mother hen instincts kick in as the flock comes home from college or wherever, let us keep in mind the memories we are creating at these Commons, “community” that binds us all together….and to the earth.
Read more at http://bit.ly/130Qii3 and other articles on the same subject in this month’s issue of Utne (no, I don’t get paid to promote them!).