Creating Community

July 2013 — Two new local projects illustrate the extraordinary dedication and creativity of my fellow citizens.

The first is The Delaware Company, a non-profit organization formed this year to promote and preserve the historical heritage of the Upper Delaware River Valley.  The organization takes its name from the group of Connecticut farmers who established the first European settlement here in 1755, and will focus initially on a range of events at Fort Delaware in Narrowsburg.  Like its 18th century prototype, the new Delaware Company captures an auspicious mix of adventure and practical enterprise – good ingredients to nurture our sense of community.

I’ve always loved visiting historical places and exploring the texture of everyday life in another time – cooking, housekeeping, child-rearing, the social framework – as well as the political and economic pressures that shape great events.   In relation to our pioneering past, there’s a special power in walking the same landscape, imagining the challenges, the heartbreaks, the ingenuity, and the leaps of faith that helped make our own lives possible.  Thanks to the vision and scholarship of John and Debra Conway, the Delaware Company is harnessing that power, to inspire us with a love of this extraordinary place, a sense of our personal continuity with history, and an understanding of how we can shape events through our engagement with our communities.

I’m also excited about The Weather Project, the brainchild of Tannis Kowalchuk and Brett Keyser of North American Cultural Laboratory (NACL).  For more than fifteen years, this world-class experimental theatre company has created and presented innovative theatre works at its home in Highland Lake.  With The Weather Project, funded through a prestigious “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, NACL joins with the Town of Highland to create a multidisciplinary two-year exploration of all things relating to the weather – how it affects us and how we affect it.   Numerous partnering organizations, uniting the worlds of the visual and performing arts, conservation and climate science, promise to make this a thought-provoking community experience with plenty of opportunities for all of us to participate as creators as well as spectators.

For me, these endeavors exemplify a critical aspect of sustainability – one that is sometimes overlooked as we focus on the technical details of carbon emissions and energy efficiency.  It’s the fact that we create our notions of community by choosing where to devote our energies, and the civic culture we build is the medium in which we grow.  We are our own most precious natural resource.

Toby Hemenway sums it up in his remarkable book Gaia’s Garden.   Writing about the origins and practices of permaculture, he describes “the invisible structures  . . . the careful design of relationships among them – interconnections – that will create a healthy, sustainable whole.  These relationships are what turn unrelated parts into a functioning system, whether it‘s a backyard, a community, or an ecosystem.”   From our volunteer fire companies and rescue squads to the infinite examples of neighbors helping and watching out for each other, we are all part of an ecology we create day by day, and our cultural organizations provide essential mental nourishment.

The Delaware Company will help us find inspiration and relevance in the courage and ingenuity of those who have come before.  NACL’s Weather Project looks forward, inviting us to explore the realities of climate change and to develop and apply our innate creativity and ingenuity to this new challenge.   I am struck by the dynamic synergy that has energized both of these projects, here and now, in the Upper Delaware.

More about The Weather Project at http://www.nacl.org/weatherproject/index.html

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