Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Power of Place

I'm reading a book right now called The Power of Place: How Our Surroundings Shape Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Actions (P.S.). Rereading it, actually. The book made enough of an impression on me when I first read it that I've kept it on my bookshelf for probably 20 years or so.

The impact of environment in affecting a person's life is pretty obvious to Paul and me right now. For all kinds of reasons: visual stimulation or lack of it, noise pollution or (yay!) lack of it, amount of sun, wind, rain.

One thing that's really apparent to me here in the Arizona "outback" (as Paul's mom likes to call it) is how people pitch in to help each other out. Probably a day doesn't go by when we don't hear of some effort to help a family or individual in need. Someone dies and the survivors get help with meals and groceries; a baby needs surgery and the community raises the money to help pay for it. The helping even extends to me and Paul taking a walk down the country dirt roads, something we try to do at least once a day. People in the outback don't expect to see people walking unless their car has broken down. We're 15 miles away from ANYTHING except cows, rabbits and other people. So, sometimes, when we're walking people slow down and call out to us "You alright? You need anything?" and we wave and smile and assure them that we're okay.

People make community a priority here. It's something that happens in rural New England, too. Probably many other rural communities across the nation. It's markedly different than life in the city, even (I hate to say it) life in a place like Santa Cruz. Sure, people do lots of fun activities together, they join spiritual and political groups, and even organize the occasional fund drive to help someone in need. But as a regular community-wide effort it's not as obvious and plain to see. There's not the kind of pervasive sense of "we're all in this together" or a knowing that we need each other to get by in a place like that. Probably because the weather and environment makes daily life so much easier, an illusion is created that people shouldn't have to depend on each other for help.

I did get to see that coming together as a community in Santa Cruz. It took an earthquake! Here I see it every day.

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