Remember in “Old Yeller,” when Travis is sad because Yeller’s dead, and his father is trying to help him put the whole thing in perspective? It’s one of my favorite parts of the book.
The dad acknowledges that bad things happen. “They may seem mighty cruel and unfair, but that’s how life is a part of the time.”
“But that isn’t the only way life is,” he continues. “A part of the time, it’s mighty good. And a man can’t afford to waste all the good part, worrying about the bad parts. That makes it all bad....”
That’s how I feel about what’s happening around here nowadays. I’ll admit that things aren’t perfect in our little corner of Orange County. We’ve got some big issues on our hands and solving them won’t be easy.
However, I think it’s important that we not allow these problems to become our sole focus. In other words, let’s not “waste all the good part, worrying about the bad parts.”
With this in mind, I recently did some canvassing, seeking answers to a single, simple question: What’s good about our area?
A Harriman yoga instructor said her favorite thing about living here is the generosity that flows naturally from residents.
“When someone is sick or down on their luck, this community comes together and wraps that person in love and support,” she observed. “That is just what this place does. From big to small gestures, I don’t think any other community is as generous with their time and money.”
Others struck similar chords. A small business owner in Monroe praised the work of local churches and other charitable organizations in providing essential resources for residents in need. “We are a community," he said, "of hardworking, bighearted people."
A retired teacher living in Highland Mills related a tale that could have ended in disaster. A huge bin had fallen on her, pinning her to the floor of her garage. “It was nighttime and there were no people outside I could call out to. I did have my cell phone in my pocket, so I called my neighbor. He was there before I could replace the phone and rescued me from under the bin.”
And a fitness professional from Monroe said she loves that her children can walk around the neighborhood freely. “Their friends come by all the time and vice versa. I'm happy to say that I know most of my neighbors personally!”
Several respondents focused on our area’s physical beauty.
A Chester web designer spoke of cherished outdoor resources, including Walton Lake, the Appalachian Trail, the Heritage Trail and the region’s abundant wildlife.
She expressed concerns about the environmental impact of growth in our area, but said she is encouraged by evidence of grassroots activism. She cited a recent example: When builders planned a massive development on 389 acres of pristine woodlands on Goosepond Mountain South, local residents banded together to block the project, preserving the land for use by outdoor enthusiasts.
A Monroe art teacher identified the area’s lakes, streams and dogfriendly trails as major pluses. To this list of natural attractions she added some other assets: the library; the farmers market; access to Asian, Mexican, Polish, Kosher, Italian and Greek cuisine; and The Photo News.
Some praised our schools. An occupational therapist whose sons attend MonroeWoodbury made note of the district's "great education," along with its music and extracurricular programs.
And a former Central Valley resident who now captains a boat in South Carolina likes it so much here, he makes the 800mile trek to visit regularly. Although he decried the “overdevelopment and environmental degradation” that have beset our region, it remains “a cool place” in his eyes. High on his list of favorite things to do: “Sitting on Mombasha Lake and meditating.”
Yes, we’ve got our issues. And no, they’re not going to go away by themselves. But we’ve also got lots of wonderful things to enjoy. And the way I see it, celebrating what we love about the area can give us the strength and motivation we need to ensure that things remain to quote “Old Yeller” again “mighty good.”
Bob Barlow has won awards as a writer, an educator and a musician. He has been a Monroe resident since 1966. He can reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.