Green spaces help sustain the country
For a brief period of my life, I was obliged to spend a couple of days in Boston each year on business. Boston is, in many ways, the cradle of the American Revolution, and my visits allowed me a little time to see some of the places so important to the founding of the republic. One of my favorite spots was Boston Common, established in 1634, and celebrated by the locals as America’s oldest public park.
Created in colonial times as a place for settlers to graze livestock, the pasture slowly evolved into a meeting place for public events. Not all of the happenings at Boston Common have been happy ones; the Puritans liked to punish or hang suspected wrongdoers there. But the Common also has hosted appearances by the Rev. Martin Luther King and Pope John Paul II. Earlier in its history, the Common hosted bonfires to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act and the end of the Revolutionary War.
I like the name of Boston Common, which originated from the idea of a “common land” that benefited everyone in the community. It’s a nice reminder that the strength of our country rests not only on the might of our army or the wealth of our industry, but also on the green spaces we hold and preserve as a public trust.
All of this came to mind last Saturday when my son and I helped spruce up our neighborhood park. As an Eagle Scout, a young man had joined with the civic association in planning the planting of trees and flowers, and he needed help to get the nursery stock in the ground.
We arrived with our rakes and shovels, joined by a brigade of other volunteers wielding their own garden tools — a ragtag horticultural militia ready and reporting for duty. Some of us, of course, were more ready than others. I hoped no one would notice the sad condition of my shovels, which should have been cleaned and sharpened in advance of spring. Instead, in a display that would have been shameful to my late father and grandfather, they sported a dull edge and a film of mud from some gardening chores last autumn.
Some other volunteers pointed to tools that also suffered from neglect. Each year, I wistfully daydream of a winter day when the garden is asleep, the lawn is dormant, and a gray afternoon opens a window of time to give my garden rack some tender, loving care. That pleasant windfall of hours seldom arrives.
We’re all busier than we want to be, as I was reminded while our corps of volunteers planted maples, oaks and elms, or tucked roses and irises into a flower bed, or spread mulch in anticipation of a long, hot summer.
We had each put our own yard work on hold for a morning to help improve a common green space, and one of the pleasures of the gathering was seeing how much good had been done, in so short a time, by so many hands joined in the same purpose.
Civic life these days tends to gather people under the banner of opposition. I was heartened to see so many neighbors gathered to stand for an idea — that a little park could be made just a little bit better. Here’s hoping that the feeling is contagious.