What makes community?

The new community park is almost finished. One Sunday morning, shortly after we arrived in Borrego Springs, we strolled around the new park to get acquainted. It’s pretty amazing. Children were playing in the playground and on the basketball court there was a fast game in progress. We noticed the tennis courts (with pickle ball option) and the sandlot volleyball court. There’s also a real Bocce court complete with the crushed shell surface that’s preferred. There’s a dog park too. Bike racks for the playground, at the amphitheater, and at the new library just across the road. And right there on the edge of this property is the new San Diego County Sheriff ‘s Department. It all feels pretty safe, idyllic really.

The solid granite signpost for the new community park. Library in the background.
At the Borrego Springs community park playground this sign reminds the kids that this is their home.

We stopped to chat with a couple of women who were getting ready to play tennis. They told us that the park was presented to the community a couple of weeks ago. They said it was an emotional event for the town. “People were pretty amazed,” they told us. “We didn’t really know how it would look and how much would be here.” I agree. Last year we were part of the process for input for the building. We reviewed different site design proposals and voted on the ones we liked the best. It was clear that a lot of careful thought had gone into the project. But seeing it in reality has been very moving.

All this got me thinking about community. While we enjoy lots of amenities in Borrego Springs: grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and other services, many shops that stock various “lifestyle” needs, these things come at a cost. We really are isolated by distance from large population centers and by the surrounding desert. I’m always reminded of our isolation on bike rides. Whenever we get a few miles out from town there is no cell coverage. A few years ago, on our way to a hike, we learned about this isolation first hand. We pulled off the highway near a trailhead in an area that looked solid. It wasn’t. Our truck sank into the sand, all four wheels were buried up to the axles. No cell reception. We couldn’t budge. Close to where we parked there was a fellow sitting behind his pickup truck. He eyed us menacingly and said, “Get out of here, you’re disturbing my peace.” He observed us trying to make some progress in complying with his demand. “Oh great,” he growled. “You’re stuck.” Pretty soon he came over to help us. His theme was that Jonathan was way too “old and feeble” to be trying to dig out the truck and that he’d like to ignore us but he couldn’t because he was a Christian. (God Save Us!) This went on for quite a while and he didn’t have any more luck than poor feeble, old Jonathan in getting us out. We were getting more and more nervous stuck out here with this somewhat edgy “Christian” when, out of the blue, a big flatbed truck with “duelies”, 4WD and a winch pulled up and its driver got out. “Do you need some help?” He proceeded to quickly hook the winch to our truck and with one mighty shudder our entire big truck vibrated its way to solid ground. We gave him our heartfelt thanks, he declined money, and was on his way. Mr. “Christian” watched in silence and after our guardian angel left he asked, “Where did he come from? Did you call him?” Nope, he was just a nice guy passing by who decided to stop and help. I could have said more but words failed me.

And that is Borrego Springs in a nutshell. It seems to me that this isolation creates community, it gives the town a unique sense of togetherness; kind of like we’re all in this together. In general, people seem kinder, perhaps more tolerant of differences. In the 2010 census there were over 3,000 residents in Borrego. We aren’t full time residents, we’re snowbirds. Whenever I meet year-round residents I’m always curious to find out what it’s like to be here all year. The short answer is “HOT”, but they also like how quiet it is. And the amazing thing is that they aren’t stingy with it. They let us snowbirds flock in, noisily fluttering around. They share their home. I love the diversity of this place. All kinds of people, some are a little colorful, some rich, some poor. There’s lots of resourcefulness. I love that I hear a mix of English and Spanish being spoken. It makes sense. We are about a 2 hour drive from the Mexican border. I get to practice my language skills with lots of folks who are happy to help out. The diversity of the people helps me to see the diversity of the desert landscape a little more clearly. I don’t think it’s the whole story about community, but it’s a start.

2 thoughts on “What makes community?

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