Friday, July 2, 1999
Carlisle, a town that has community
With all the talk in the news about suburban sprawl, suburban sameness and communities with commercial strips but no village center, I can't help but feel lucky to live in a town like Carlisle. Tomorrow being Old Home Day, that annual Fourth of July celebration put on by the people from this community, just reinforces the positive feelings I have for my town.
Carlisle's authentic town center, with its many homes dating back to the 18th and 19th century, a town library, police station, town hall, fire station, country store, church and the Town Green, is what the town of Boxborough is trying to create, just now at the very end of the 20th century, reported the NorthWest weekly section of the Boston Globe on Sunday in its article "Towns turning to their centers".
In a recent conversation at the First Religious Society's Strawberry Festival in June, the man sitting across the table from me, enjoying his strawberry shortcake as much as I was enjoying mine, remarked that he had just returned from a visit to Littleton, Colorado. In that infamous town where 14 students and a teacher were shot and killed at the local high school, he remarked that he had found no sense of community. The environment that he observed in Littleton, he said, seemed totally different from the one he has experienced living here in Carlisle.
Carlisle looks like a town and feels like a town to many of its inhabitants, but for some that sense of community is lacking. I'm thinking of those families where both parents work and there is so little time to get involved in community activities. Then there are others who are reticent to reach out and get involved.
Living in a town with two-acre zoning has many advantages, but getting to know one's neighbors when living so far apart isn't always easy. The best way to become a part of this community and avoid the isolation that our car-driven society can foster is to join in. Yes, it takes time, but if you make the effort, the benefits to you and the community are well worth it.
There are so many ways to get involved in Carlisletown committees, school and church activities, Scouts, book clubs, sports programs, playgroups for mothers with smaller children, investment clubs, the food co-op, Foss Farm community gardens, and even the Carlisle Mosquito (we always need writers).
Carlisle is an old-fashioned town for anyone who wants to be a part of the community. Many people these days say they are looking for a sense of community. For those willing to put forth the effort, that sense of community can be found right here in Carlisle, where getting involved may complicate but always enriches one's life.
A Summer Evening in Carlisle
Visitors from an earlier era would surely be distressed by the sounds at the close of a summer day in Carlisle. Traffic noise is at its worst, and sudden deafening airplane roars would make them duck in terror. They might speculate about lawn-tending machines that go on even after light fades, and motorcycles that buzz by, like angry bumblebees.
But for those of us resigned to modernday noise, evening may be the best part of any day. Except during the worst heat waves, cooler air arrives when the sun sinks, as if it had been waiting all day under rocks or hidden in a grove of trees. Night wraps the earth like a bandage, covering sores and soothing the hurts that day revealed; dry leaves and drooping stems of water-starved vegetation, or the huge swaths of bare earth where roads cleave their way toward new developments. The big yellow earthmovers, stopped in their tracks by the dark, are asleep in the woods.
Almost every day I listen and watch from our deck as twilight comes. When the sun disappears behind the hill, thrushes start singing. Usually the hermit thrush begins, the same bird for two summers now. His solemn, melodious song is well-known and predictable, but listened to gratefully again and again. Next the wood thrush joins in, his phrases short and quick in comparison. The effect as they sing together brings to mind Milton's poems, "Il Penseroso" and "L'Allegro," on contrasting moods of pensiveness and gaiety.
Often, as darkness advances, a veery sings from the neighboring swamp. I strain to catch his downwardly spiraling notes over the traffic sounds.
By the time the thrush music is over, a bat may already be circling overhead. Its dark silhouette is like an oldfashioned teatray in the sky, as Lewis Carroll wrote.
I watch from the screened porch as the weedy clearing (our substitute for a lawn) blossoms with fireflies. They erupt from the greenery one at a time, or sometimes all at once, evenly spaced, like dancers beginning the dance. They drift upward gradually, sending out signals: on, off, on again, pause. Later, another kind appears, that winks rapidly in a line, then goes out, like a spark from a Fourth of July display.
The fireflies crown the evening. For children, the charm comes from catching one in a jar and holding the clear lantern of living light in their own hands, but I like to see the silent fireworks go their erratic ways unhindered. As I watch, they become disembodied light, willo'thewisps, spirits of the dead or of the past. Perhaps to follow their lights is to find out where all the rain has gone, or to see cutdown woods turn whole again. You might discover the gold at the end of the rainbow, or the lost hope of today's youth, or you might not.
If I watch the lights go out, the show dwindle to an end, it's almost time for bed. Or in this case, for my typewriter.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito