communities lose the will to protect themselves

Here in the mountains time becomes a lesser commodity. We live a half-hour drive from the nearest stop light and there is no commerce anywhere…

Here in the mountains time becomes a lesser commodity.

We live a half-hour drive from the nearest stop light and there is no commerce anywhere nearby.

The houses are spread an acre apart and we see our neighbours mostly in their comings and their goings and the occasional over-the-back-fence conversation. For the most part, we’re insular and happy that way.

Once the day’s work is done we can be found on our decks and in our yards or lazing in boats on the lake that has drawn us all here. There’s a sleepy feel to it all.

When you step out the door, there is only the land and the sense that everything exists in equilibrium. It’s as though time, as created and marshaled by the city, ceases to function. Instead we’re relaxed and giddy with the fresh air and quiet that prevails here.

It sounds idyllic. For the most part it is, and there isn’t a one of us who would exchange this rural charm for a closer proximity to town and its conveniences.

In fact, in our house, with the price of fuel spiraling steadily higher, we’re committed to reducing our time on the road severely, only making the trek when it’s absolutely essential. Getting to the conveniences has itself, become inconvenient.

But in this mountain retreat there’s a troubling phenomenon. I’ve begun to notice a certain lethargy of spirit, a down-turning of communal responsibility and a decided lack of concern over issues that should bring us together.

See, we’re still a community even though we have all chosen to spurn the organized mayhem of town and city. The trouble is, we tend to forget that.

When we locked the boat launch it was to protect the lake. Strangers and outsiders blatantly used the launch even though the signage indicates it’s restricted to residents. The result was an outbreak of milfoil brought in on the props and hulls of outside boats that could choke the life out of the water.

Then they race about inconsiderately.

Several times I’ve witnessed them bash right through the reeds where coots and grebes, ducks and geese are nesting. There’s garbage strewn everywhere.

So we put a lock on the gate. For a time it was wonderful. Traffic on the water was way down and the nesting areas appeared safe. Then it got inconvenient to come and get a key. Soon the gate was being left unlocked and the problems began all over again.

The lake, the crown jewel of our living here, was inundated with more gas and oil and garbage and you could hear the nesting birds call to each other in anxiety.

It’s troubling. Because there was a time when a community could be counted on to come together to help preserve itself.

There was a time when neighbours behaved like neighbours and lent a hand to see things through, to set them straight, to maintain order and retain a sense of community dignity. Every time I find the boat launch lock dangling open I feel that slip further and further away.

Now, that might seem like an insignificant thing. It might seem like pretty small-potatoes in the face of the larger picture of living in these unsettled times. But it’s a rampant phenomenon that’s only getting bigger.

Everywhere people around us are becoming more and more apathetic. They become inconvenienced by things and do nothing to help themselves.

It starts with a something as simple as a lock on a boat launch. Then it spreads. Soon it’s shrugging the shoulders at the implementation of a carbon tax or at the unequaled price of gas at the pump.

It becomes mute acceptance of an unspecified military action in a far-away country, the surging population of the homeless, the lack of family doctors, and the exorbitant cost of things that should cost far less.

Here in the mountains it’s the same as in the cities. No one wants to step up and answer things collectively. It’s too inconvenient.

It costs too much in time and energy to challenge things. Better to Canuck-up and take it like a good Canadian.

That’s the sad thing, really. This country was forged on the premise of strong backs working together to build something magnificent.

It worked. But the more we dwell on the inconvenience of protecting our conveniences the more the luster fades on that great and shining ideal. The further removed we are from the true nature of community.

 Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He recently won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels.

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