Cambrian: Opinion

Great American tradition of neighbor helping neighbor alive and well in Cambria backcountry

A generous neighbor helped Mountain Musings columnist Michele Oksen clear a toppled black oak on her Santa Lucia Mountain property.
A generous neighbor helped Mountain Musings columnist Michele Oksen clear a toppled black oak on her Santa Lucia Mountain property. Special to The Cambrian

“Our American tradition of neighbor helping neighbor has been one of our greatest strengths and most noble traditions.” — Ronald Reagan

We saw it done as children, and we continue to do it as adults. Up here in these Santa Lucia Mountains, the backcountry of Cambria and San Simeon, some things never change. Traditions, the kind where neighbors help neighbors, have continued from generation to generation.

Back in the 1930s through 50s, my grandfather Eldon “Red” Caskey and his friend/neighbor Walter Cole used to help each other. As hardworking, independent and capable as Cole and Grandpa were, there were times when they needed each other to raise walls and such. I imagine the twosome was quite productive while they shared ample laughter. Good-humored Cole certainly livened things up, as I remember he was quite the jokester. Grandpa, conversely, having been raised by a strict Scottish mother who seldom smiled, was likely not as spontaneous or uninhibited. Grandpa undoubtedly loosened up and enjoyed life to the fullest in Cole’s company. Isn’t that what friends are for?

At any rate, here in our area, we are blessed that neighbors helping neighbors is not only a tradition it’s a common practice. As with Cambria’s villagers, when mountain residents come across a neighbor in need, we give a helping hand whenever possible. For the record, I say, “give” a helping hand rather than “offer” one.

This is due to the self-reliant nature of folks who live in remote areas. People who prefer to rely on their own power and resources often decline a helpful offer only to endure trials and tribulations on their own. C’est la vie. One reason may be pride. Another may be the fact that no one wants their problems to create troubles for others.

So, we help each other when we can and when we’re allowed. Many miles from emergency services, we’ve been known to transport each other to urgent care facilities—the nearest is well over an hour away. Far from roadside services, we pull each other out of ditches, jump each other’s batteries and bring each other gas. Out of the jurisdiction of street sweepers, we help clear each other’s roadblocks such as small rockslides and fallen trees. Such was the case during the last storm when a gust of wind blew over an entire black oak tree. The tree’s canopy and part of the trunk covered the road. No ingress. No egress.

Luckily, this time, neighbor Aaron Appel came to the rescue. Better yet, he came along with a cheerful, easy-going attitude. What a pleasure. Chainsaw in hand, Appel cut wood for several hours until the road was passable. Yay, Aaron! Thanks neighbor.

If, as Reagan declared, the noble tradition of a neighbor helping a neighbor is an American’s greatest strength, here in California, we are among the strongest.

From over the ridge and off-the-grid Michele Oksen writes her Mountain Musings column from the Santa Lucia Mountains. Contact her at
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