WARNING: Do not click "Read More" if you are subject to nausea caused by overly florid prose, preening intellectual pretentiousness, tortured logic, asinine allegories, naturalist hyberbole, gratuitous use of adjectives, or haughty classical music references:
Importance of community-shared values
Cows graze behind the supermarket and wheat fields roll for miles in the alley behind our shopping center in Moscow. It's a lonely stretch of road - a soothing respite from the traffic and frenetic animation of the parking lot on the front side of the mall.
Drivers are discouraged from taking this route by a series of lofty speed bumps, installed to assure that only a limited number of cars will clog the delivery lane. The bumpy pavement forces a slower pace and provides a kind of rhythm to the journey, so the occasional jostle is never too much of a surprise. I like knowing what to expect.
The conspicuous evidence of consumption litters this corridor. Stacks of wooden pallets, torn shrink wrap and plastic strapping bands lie discarded - the common refuse of retail operations. Battered Dumpsters, with Smurf-colored paint, bulge with cardboard and packing peanuts resting against drab cinder block walls which form the "backside" of a marketplace filled with glitter and glitz.
The peaceful pasture that lays on the other side of this alley seems out of place. It's a bucolic scene, in stark contrast to the commercial setting that is its backdrop; a metaphor for the clash between the push for development and its opposition.
One day as I began the slow traverse of this undulating path I turned the radio to classical. The music was lilting, and beautiful, but I felt unsettled, my mind troubled by thoughts of the natural landscape on one side of the alley that seems headed for obliteration - threatened by the encroaching ooze of molten asphalt hardening into a permanent tomb and the relentless proliferation of retail outlets that have already scourged the nation.
Countless other towns have been swept up in the now familiar pattern that comes on the winds of progress. A trend favoring a homogeneous market saturated with global franchises housed in immense buildings with the offer of generic predictability. Spewing shrink wrap and clam shell cartons, they operate out of step with the rhythms of the natural world and encourage us to do likewise, causing one to wonder if health of any kind is ever a priority.
Countless towns have seen the destruction of the sense of community that comes in the wake of the big-box phenomena. The marketplace, no longer a meeting place, marches to a global drummer, oblivious to the heartbeat of the community. The anonymous nature of these cart and carry stores only adds to social isolation.
When it comes to the issues of water and Wal-Mart, the residents of Moscow, myself included, are polarized. It's hard to see common ground - the shared soil that is the essence of this community - so near and dear to everyone. But common ground is what we must find to prevent the health of our beautiful natural setting and the relationships that make life so rich and give meaning from falling victim to ideological positions set in stone.
Something rescued me from these somber thoughts that day in the alley. Without warning hundreds of small black birds descended on my car. Swirling, whipping and whirling, they snaked towards me and then away in long symmetrical streams forming layer upon layer of concentric black rings. As if hearing the music, they swept inward and outward, like ribbons in the wind, upward and back around the car in syncopated rhythm. As quickly as they came they vanished, as if sucked by a celestial vacuum.
As I negotiated the last speed bump and turned onto the street to head for home, the radio announcer spoke clearly: "You have been listening to a composition by the French composer Ravel written in 1928. It is titled "Oiseauz Tristes," "The Unhappy Birds."
It was a moment sublime - "coincidental oppositorum." Things that seem separate, even opposed, coincided to reveal an unexpected unity - an unbelievably beautiful experience driving in a littered alley behind a mall illustrating the coming together of two worlds in conflict.
Will our town slide into dissension and mediocrity as so many other towns, unwilling or unable to see the importance of the shared values that will determine its destiny? Is there a way to soar above the staunch opinions and fly together?