I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
George Bernard Shaw
A proper community, we should remember also, is a commonwealth: a place, a resource, an economy. It answers the needs, practical as well as social and spiritual, of its members – among them the need to need one another.
Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry
Several events over the last weeks reminded me once again why I love living in the Hudson Valley. Beyond the breathtaking natural beauty, beyond the glorious American history, beyond the rich legacy of creativity, it is that sense of community that ultimately matters the most.
Community comes in many shapes and sizes but for many of us in the Hudson Valley, our identify is tied in with the town or village in which we live. And we all know these towns have their own personalities, whether we feel we fit them or not. In fact, we identify even when our relationship to our town is a bit estranged. Too many of us joke, somewhat sadly, that after 20 or 30 or 40 years as an engaged tax-paying resident in our towns we are still considered “newcomers” by those who find comfort in that sort of label. But we identify for the same reasons we choose to live here: we cherish the sense of community that our villages and towns can provide for us — and do at the best of times, including the need to need and to be needed.
A beautiful example of community was played out this New Year’s Eve in Millbrook where the local Rotary Club hosted the eighth of its annual family-friendly New Year’s evening — 4 to 8:15 pm — festivities. This year some 1500 smiling celebrants of all ages filled the village on a conveniently balmy winter’s night to enjoy terrific entertainment that ranged from the popular Bindlestiff Family Cirkus to the Handman String Quartet, which actually numbered six this year since two talented members of the younger generation performed with the gifted Handman siblings.
The Larry Ham Duo (of the local Ham family) entertained with classic jazz, the Evergreen Chorus of Sweet Adelines harmonized a cappella and the Sankofa African Drummers and Dancers had everyone bopping in the aisles of Grace Chapel. I got a special kick out of the ever gracious Peter Muir’s piano medley of the most popular songs of 1912 — all of which, for some reason, I knew. (I somehow doubt I’ll be able to say that about the top songs of 2012.) In 1912, they were: Waiting for the Robert E. Lee, On Moonlight Bay, and Oh, You Beautiful Doll. So, maybe you know them, too?
The New Year flurry of swearings-in, particularly those of recently elected Mayors, Town Supervisors, Trustees, Council members and so on — most of which are practically volunteer positions, and often thankless — was another moment to reflect on community. Despite the acrimony of election season and the incredibly close races in places like Stanford and Rhinebeck in Dutchess County (three votes each; every vote truly does count), these events felt like small town public service at its best. Family members beamed with pride; grandchildren held the Bible or sang. Friends and neighbors brought home baked goodies. Hopefully that spirit of collegiality will carry on throughout the term because when communities work together good things actually happen.
Case in point is the just announced Dial-A-Ride program launched by the Millerton-based North East Community Center (NECC) — there’s that word, again — to serve six towns that have largely been without any public transportation for years. The process took several years of research and negotiation. Buses and drivers are provided through an agreement with the Dutchess County Division of Mass Transit. The bus service requires free pre-registration (fares range from $1 for seniors and veterans to $3.50 for the general public) and will serve residents of the towns of Northeast, Pine Plains, Stanford, Washington, Amenia and Dover, taking them directly to doctors appointments, shopping, school or work. Available six days a week, service is provided on a first come, first served basis. To register or to make reservations, people should call Justin Svingen at (518) 789-4259 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Community matters in the here and now, but most of us harbor the hope that future generations, our children and their children, will also know the embrace of community spirit. That’s one of the reasons we do the things we do to make our communities viable. As is often the case, it is a Chinese Proverb that says it best: “One generation plants the trees. Another gets the shade.” Happy New Year!