No guns. The man with the machete over there? He’s here to cut the overgrown ficus next to the drive.
When I fall into bed, I sleep a dreamless sleep, wake only at dawn. This city seemed to be another world when I first arrived, but I know these houses, these people, belong to the same universe as do the edgier streets of the East Bay. We are all in this together. It's our planet we nurture, our futures we create. Before the morning is out, my son and I are off to Runyon Canyon to hike the “Hero’s Trail,” a challenging but doable 18-degree slope up hill hike to a vista point overlooking the Hollywood haze. The trail is free of trash and dog owners carefully scoop any poop into the plastic bags that are deposited in the various trashcans along the way. Hikers, for the most part, greet one another amiably and patiently wait while the slowest, such as me, struggle up the narrowest parts of the trail. Dogs are welcome to be off-leash and roam happily up the hard-packed yet dusty trail, bounding and barking with greater ease than I do. I must admit, huffing and puffing before I reached the top may have sounded like wheezing barking, but my feet couldn't dance like those of the little dogs; nonetheless, I made it. With sea fog still drifting above, the morning is cool and down below, amongst the palms and live oaks, birds chirp merrily. I feel a quiet joy as I sit on the bench high above the city and breathed, grateful for the peace of the morning.
Later walking again past yards with blooming jasmine, spilling over fences and great walls of green, I wondered why some neighborhoods work within a certain amiable order, maintaining peace and creating beauty and other most desperate neighborhoods struggle so hard, seemingly erasing such things. I know it takes money to maintain gardens in a state of pristine beauty, money to keep the facades of buildings sharp and clean, money to keep even the most modest houses in working order, but it can’t be only money that creates peaceful order and amiable good will in a neighborhood. I remember neighbors as poverty-stricken as I in South Brooklyn out busily sweeping their stoops and pouring buckets of soapy water on sidewalks before scrubbing them crystal clean, folks who worked long hours at low-paying jobs and came home after dark to tend flower gardens planted from seed packets in once dry strips of ground between the sidewalk and the street. Now that neighborhood is one where the most successful want to live and those who lived there before they arrived, as community members caring for their homes quietly and without fanfare continue to enjoy their lives even as the neighborhood moves from rough to ready.
Creating a peaceful community requires a collective consensus that may or may not be consciously acknowledged. A community grows naturally yet intentionally, the natural growth being perhaps more essential. Nature, the unbidden, the unintentional, is the heart of community, and that heart keeps its beat with a desire for peaceful and productive life. That desire – the collective and unspoken dream – precedes any construction of community. A planned community, emptied of that desire, has less chance for success. Community grows perhaps as a glacier moves, creeping with a slow grace across the landscape, obliterating some things (hopefully just that which does not work) in its slow progressive path, and like a glacier, always leaving behind enough moisture and new soil to create beautiful blooming gardens seeded by desire. No successful community is passive. Those that work actively support life and the quiet songs of the heart.