The New Year begins. 2017.
This past year was a dividing line, and now we stand on the other side. How shall we live in not just a new year, but a new era? We are shaken by global political changes, we fear alterations in the climate that has supported life on earth for eons. We wonder how the world will be for our children’s children, even what our own lives will be a few years hence. We look around and question how Cambria will look in 10 years.
I’d like to suggest that we create something of real value together in 2017, by deepening community in our home town. We can move beyond being a place where people are polite and pleasant to creating a place where people are honest, committed and caring for one another even in disagreement. A place where we express compassion in action and tend the beautiful garden in which we get to live.
With unity — that’s the meaning of the word “community.” As we know, real unity is in short supply these days. It’s not sameness, or even pleasant agreement, but rather a commonality of goals. Such a community is built on four pillars of powerful action that strengthen it socially, environmentally, economically and spiritually. These pillars are neighborliness, sense of place, shared work, and tending the future.
Cambria is a neighborly place. Visitors often comment on its friendliness. We have Neighborhood Watch and Next Door Neighbor online, we greet each other at the post office and market, we step up and help when tragedy strikes a family in our midst. But neighborliness goes still deeper. It’s an attitude of compassionate attention to each other, whether we are alike or quite different.
We live in a seemingly homogeneous community. Apparent similarities can give us the false sense that we are “all alike,” that everyone is doing OK financially, that we value the same things and share beliefs. It also may lead us to subtly marginalize those who are ethnically or economically different. We may ignore or be demanding with retail and hospitality workers who struggle to make it in this expensive town. We gravitate toward people who are most like us, rather than seeking out difference. But being truly neighborly means stepping out of one’s comfort zone.
Neighborliness also extends to non-human beings who share this place with us. Getting to know our animal neighbors strengthens community. Compassionate attention to creatures whose ancestors have lived here for millennia is neighborly. Driving slowly in areas where deer, turkeys and other critters live, for example, may ensure that you won’t injure or kill one of your animal neighbors. Putting out fresh birdseed rather than letting the old seed mold is also neighborly, as is respecting the right of coyotes, mountain lions and other predators to share this place with us and our pets.
Such neighborliness strengthens our sense of place. We attend to the creatures around us, we explore our shared habitat, we go on guided walks, ask local experts and perhaps develop a little expertise of our own regarding which native plants thrive in our gardens.
We choose to live without water-hogging landscaping. We learn to identify and remove invasive plants. We begin to “squibb” around town. We attend CCSD meetings and contact county representatives to ensure that local resources are protected from overuse. We come to know our place by heart.
Cambrians are great at volunteering. We supply food for the hungry, we transport our older and disabled neighbors. We provide programs for local schools. We rescue cats. We plant pine seedlings. We raise funds for many causes.
We also excel at putting on events. Almost every weekend of the year, there’s something fun to do in this town. Such shared work is the third pillar of a strong community.
Key here is the value of what we do together. Do our public events build a sense of sharing? Are they inclusive? Do they develop awareness of place and appreciation for our natural environment? Do they balance novelty and individual expression with preservation of our history? Are they as much for those who reside here as for tourists?
As we share this work, we talk to each other. We learn about what it was like to grow up here from long-time natives. We discover what draws newer residents to Cambria. We share our hopes for the place we love. Tending the future is as necessary as enjoying the present.
Without thought for the impact of our choices on future Cambrians, all our neighborliness, interest in place and shared work will not build a durable legacy. Cambria’s population includes many retirees. Their children may live elsewhere, so some don’t see the need to build a legacy here. Cambria is a reward, a fun place after years of work.
Yes, it is a fun place — beautiful, rural, peaceful. But there’s a struggle taking place for its future. For some, the area is ripe for expansion, just waiting for commercial vineyards, larger hotels and expensive “ranchettes.” They call it “the next Carmel” and envision their properties doubling and tripling in value.
If we don’t talk about that possibility, if we ignore the future, coastal California’s history tells us what we will get. Children who are raised here will not be able to live here as adults — it will be too expensive for young families. The population will grow larger, but older and ever more homogeneous. Uncontrolled tourist traffic will wear down our infrastructure and beat up our beaches. Overuse will strain natural resources beyond their limits. At some point, in perhaps two or three decades, quiet forests and open pasturelands will be gone. Cambria will have changed beyond recognition.
We have power right now to care for our neighbors, deepen and strengthen our common love for this place, share the work of protection and celebration, and tend to Cambria’s future.
Here’s a question for this New Year: Will we?
The Greenspace column appears quarterly and is special to The Cambrian.