Friday, November 16, 2007
Volunteers have a big impact in Carlisle
Carlisle benefits tremendously from the energy and dedication of its volunteers.
A reminder of this was last weekend's impressive boardwalk construction projects organized by the Trails Committee. Beforehand, a lot of work had been done by committee members behind the scenes. They designed the structures to span muddy sections of trails, obtained permission from the Conservation Commission and purchased materials. The DPW helped transport the wood and concrete supports. Finally, on Saturday and Sunday, about 20 volunteers assembled the two new boardwalks on the Davis Corridor and Towle Land. The Trails Committee has organized several similar projects in recent years, with the largest being the 200-foot boardwalk and 130-foot bridge built on the River Trail built by 75 volunteers in 2004.
These projects illustrate how the community needs both those who serve on the committees, and also those who step in occasionally to help with short-term tasks. How many families help the community in ways big and small?
For instance, Carlisle's Old Home Day celebration would not be possible without the effort of dozens of volunteers, and throughout the school year many residents help in the Carlisle School classrooms, library, playground, and on field trips. They serve on the School Committee, the School Building Committee and in numerous advisory capacities. Through two organizations, the Carlisle Education Foundation (CEF) and the Carlisle School Association (CSA), volunteers raise significant funds to help the school. The November 2nd CEF auction raised $70,000, while the CSA has recently distributed over $17,000 in grants to the school (see article, "CSA donates $17,758 to the Carlisle School," page 9.)
Outside of the school, volunteers also serve on the many town boards that play a huge role in Carlisle's government, while others support the Gleason Library or the Council on Aging, or coach youth sports or lead Scout troops. Residents who serve as firefighters and EMTs train continually, and are on call 24 hours a day.
Where would Carlisle be without its volunteers? For one thing, trail improvement would not be a pressing issue, because without the volunteer-led efforts over the years to preserve open space, there would be little conservation land and few trails to maintain. Would there be Patriot's Day, Memorial Day or Old Home Day observances? Most tasks might get done, but higher taxes would be needed to pay for hiring employees to do the work now done by volunteers. For instance, a full-time salaried fire department would be much more expensive than the on-call department Carlisle has now.
Volunteers provide services and activities that enrich the quality of life for every age group. This coming Thanksgiving week, why not look among your family, friends and neighbors and thank them for their volunteer work for our community.
On the road again
Some aspects of life you don't think about. They form the backdrop of living in an age or place. You slide in and out of them gradually, unnoticed, the way seasons change. Often, only years later, when a sudden contrast appears, does the difference between now and then jump out, as with an Escher print.
How commonplace a dairy farm must once have seemed as the focus for a state park. Why, even the minimum-security prisons trained "trusty" inmates for the numerous jobs in the dairy industry while producing milk for those doing hard time. Who would want to visit a dairy farm? Now the sense of excitement, even nausea and awe, you see in kids visiting the milking barn at Great Brook is palpable. Is that really where milk comes from?
Some of this realization surely comes from the perspective of middle age. If you haven't had the experience of one era, when certain circumstances and activities were the norm (a big middle class with secure jobs but no luxuries, doctors who visit you at home when you are sick, most adult men being military veterans, boring food, coffee drunk with meals other than breakfast, courtesy as a hallmark of air travel, regular corporal punishment of children in school, racial segregation, having to withdraw enough cash from the bank on Friday afternoon to last until Monday morning, kids playing on their own outside until after dark, and unlocked houses) and then another era, when completely different circumstances and activities become the "new normal," it is hard to appreciate how much the do's and don'ts of daily existence can change in a short time.
Gabriel Marcel said the basic condition of man is that of a traveler —a pilgrim. This is true in time as well as space. Wherever we are, we are here (and here now) only temporarily. Expect things to change. Take one of the foundations of life in current Carlisle for example: commuting.
The mere notion of living dozens, or even scores of miles from employment would have been bizarre just three generations ago. You walked to work or you worked at home or on the farm. You had a chance to speak with people you met along the way. Some lived above the store or in a company town. Maybe if you lived in a city you took a streetcar part of the way.
Cheap gas, cheap cars and pavement turned cheap, agricultural land into expensive house lots; it built the Carlisle we inhabit today, and it imprisoned us, each in our own vehicle. At a recent book-group dinner, half a dozen of us spent a good hour trading commuting stories, the results of real-world experiments testing faster routes and different hours, and strange tales of other places — like Texas, where thundering SUVs don't wait in traffic jams but climb the embankments out of freeways and take off cross country. For most workers the commute is now typically suburb-to-suburb, cut free from the moorings of walking and mass transit. The competition of the workday begins even before the workday, with SOVs (single-occupant vehicles) engaged in endless flanking maneuvers, the jockeying for parking spaces, ever-longer rush hours at both ends, taking phone calls in transit, and even e-mails at stop lights, and every community looking to outdo the next in "traffic calming measures" (see www.TrafficCalming.org), a kind of modern equivalent of the Elizabethan Poor Laws — don't come through here, keep moving.
How long can this continue? Who knows. But it is founded on temporary conditions; not least, human patience.
© 2007 The