In this column, I frequently write about serious issues: ocean water bacteria levels, air pollution, habitat destruction, climate change and sea level rise. Just last month, I discussed sediment dumping on the beach at Ash Avenue. I describe public meetings of the City Council, the Planning Commission, and other less-than-scintillating ways to spend a few of your evening hours. In most cases, I urge you not only to notice these issues, but to care enough to take action.
But why? Why would you take the time to study technical planning documents, or to wait an hour for your turn to speak for three minutes to the City Council, or even to write a letter or an email expressing your opinion?
Why do I do it?
My first thought is there are real threats that need responses. Over the years, I have seen community leaders take an active role in tackling big issues, and I suppose some of their knowledge and insight may have rubbed off on me. I have seen that an individual can have a real impact on current issues.
But sometimes it can feel like whack-a-mole where in the middle of one issue, something new and even bigger pops its head up. The never-ending parade of problems and worries can wear you down. Why not just leave it for others to deal with?
One thing that motivates me is the vision “to preserve the essential character of our small beach town” that is central to the city of Carpinteria’s planning philosophy. I feel it is my responsibility as part of this community to do what I can to work toward that vision.
But, again… Why?
I keep asking myself this question (a bit like a three-year-old might), looking for the true underlying reason for me, or really anyone, to engage in community issues and remain engaged. Acting solely on fear of how bad things might get will drain you almost immediately, so that’s not the reason. And it’s not because it is our “responsibility,” since action based on obligation is usually, at best, half-hearted.
As I dig further and further, underneath all the apparent reasons and motivations is gratitude. The reason to fight bacterial levels in the ocean is not to avoid beach closures, but rather because of how wonderful it is to spend a day at the beach playing in waves of clean water.
Habitat destruction is troublesome, but the real motivation is having a high-functioning ecosystem that contributes to clean air, clean water and a healthy community. The decades-long effort for the Carpinteria Bluffs was not really about opposing each development proposal that came along, but rather about permanently protecting and preserving the Bluffs, even if at first it seemed impossible!
I now recognize that being grateful for what we have, or what we can have, is what drives me. My gratitude often hits me the strongest in the little things. For example, when I go for a sunset run after work, I pass by the community garden and Tomol Interpretive Play Area, through the campground, past the idle oil facility, and onto the Bluffs, along the way noticing things that remind me of what we have.
On just such a run, where the sounds of Louie Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” played on my iPod helped me to recognize what I was truly seeing, I composed a poem, “Tomol, Tree, Seals.”
Tomol, Tree, Seals
The garden being tended
Passionfruit growing along the fence
An eagle’s nest
The Rainbow Bridge
Smiling tired campers rinsing off sand
The smell of campfires
Sweat soaking my shirt
The smell of the ocean
What was a meadow
Then a hole
Then a dump
A meadow again
Flowers of yellow, lavender, blue
A blue heron nearly tall as my shoulder watching me pass
Left turn at the second tree
A train’s horn
A brush rabbit scurrying ahead then stopping
Scurrying again and again as I draw near
This tortoise knowing he will win the race
Rusty leaches that sucked poison from the Earth
Poison spewed into the air
Leaches soon to be vanquished
Seals down below
Mothers with pups
Time to turn around
The sun sinking slowly
As if on cue, a dolphin breaking the surface
Louie Armstrong in my ear reading my mind
I have two feet
Heart to pump
Lungs to burn
Struggle replaced with gratitude
Already looking ahead to the next time
Tomol, tree, seals