A few days ago Judge Nely Johnson finalized her oral opinion in Marion County (Oregon) Circuit Court that overturned a flawed Board of Commissioners' decision to let a 43-lot, 217-acre subdivision move ahead on high value, groundwater limited farmland.
Land use junkies and interested neighbors can read all about it here (4.1 MB PDF file):
Download Final decision FOMC v. Marion County (Laack)
This has been a long journey for our neighborhood and me. It started in 2005, when plans for this Measure 37 development first surfaced.
My wife, Laurel, initially led the fight to protect our area's ground and surface water -- household wells and springs that feed Spring Lake -- from drying up, as was predicted by hydrogeologists and the state Water Resources Department.
I became more active as the battle began to be fought on legal and governmental territory. The skirmishes were many and convoluted. It'd be difficult to describe how much time, effort, and money we and our neighbors put into this cause.
So I won't.
The most recent chapters in the tale have been related here, here, and here. A press release from the Crag Law Center provides more info on Judge Johnson's ruling.
Download Press Release - Measure 37 & 49 - Laack - December 2010
In this post I want to talk about the meaning this neighborhood land use fight has had for me. Hopefully I can share some ideas that will resonate with people who have no interest in land use issues, but can relate to the general nature of this sort of experience: working really hard on something, for a long time, when there is no guarantee of success.
As is the case with most things in life. Such as...
Raising a child. Pursuing a college undergraduate or graduate degree. Starting a business. Aiming for a martial arts black belt. Cultivating a happy marriage. Seeking better health. Writing a book for publication.
I've done all of the above, plus a lot more in my sixty-two years of living. Your list will be different, as the activities people engage in and the goals they pursue are marvelously diverse.
Now I can add "Struggling to save a neighborhood's water supply." A new activity, one of the most intense, difficult, and complex things I've ever done. But the meaning-of-life lessons I've learned in the process are extensions of earlier lessons.
What I'm doing isn't right or wrong; it's just what I'm doing. Like most people, I can feel pretty damn self-righteous at times.
Not a day goes by when I don't read the newspaper, watch TV, surf the Internet, or simply observe everyday life and say to myself, "What the #@$&%#!! That person is acting like a freaking idiot!"
However, equally often I remind myself that everybody is doing what makes sense to them, what feels right to them, what strikes them as the proper course of action.
Once I start labeling things as "right" and "wrong," I set myself up as the Grand Poohbah Decider of Morality in the Universe -- a role I neither want, nor am qualified, to play. Whether the issue is the building of a subdivision, national tax policy, or anything else, people are going to have different opinions about it.
I can respect someone else's differing view of an ideal world even as I work as hard as I can to make my view reality. They're going to do the same. Each of us isn't better or worse than the other -- simply different.
Little things turn into bigger things. Not always physically, though children and saplings do just that. What I'm talking about is how a string of seemingly inconsequential, petty, and minimally-meaningful actions can turn into something that makes us go, "Wow, look at that!"
This is so obvious, it hardly needs saying. But sometimes the obvious begs for attention because we pay so little attention to what is continually evident.
Whenever I've tried to do something difficult, I've had moments of despair.
By "moment" I don't mean a few seconds; my despairing periods occasionally were lengthy. All I could do then was turn to whatever small thing needed doing, and try to keep my mind off of the prospect that the entire venture might, as the saying goes, end up down the crapper.
There's no 100% guarantee of success. Even when we're taking one step after another, a seemingly predictable exercise, in the next instant an earthquake could open up a crevasse beneath our feet, or a heart attack could stop us in our tracks.
Unlikely. Yet possible.
For five years my wife and I, along with the many other people who supported efforts to stop the subdivision in our neighborhood, weren't sure where our efforts were going to end up. All we knew was what lay right before us; the future was unseen behind a corner.
Quite a while ago I jotted down some ideas for a book. Mostly what I had was a title: "Fabulous Failure." What makes life fabulous isn't so much the final outcome (that's going to be death, after all) but how it is lived moment by moment.
Yes, much of the time our efforts are rewarded by attaining a desired goal. Not always, though.
So I try to have this attitude: if I attend to the little things that come up every day as diligently, mindfully, and energetically as possible, they will add up to a Big Thing: a meaningful life. (This doesn't equate to achieving a particular outcome; meaning is an inward state of mind, not an objective state of affairs.)
As time goes on, even the bigger things shrink. Here I wish I was adept at composing a haiku, because those preceding bold-faced words probably are better elucidated with poetry than prose. I have a strong intuition of what they mean, but it's largely inexpressible.
Which won't stop me from trying, though. So I'll express away, starting with something firmly concrete: my reading of the judge's final order.
I was struck by how weeks (or even months) of my work ended up becoming a line or two of legal substance in Judge Johnson's opinion. Sometimes she disagreed with a position that we and our attorneys took; other times, she agreed.
Regardless, the twenty-five pages of her "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law" were numerically a small fraction of the hundreds of pages submitted by the attorneys for both sides in their legal arguments that led up to this decision; and all of that was a small fraction of the thousands of pages in the complete record of the case.
Further, the information in all of this written material pales beside the content of the much more extensive personal experiences of everyone involved with the subdivision issue over the past five years.
We and our neighbors. The owners and would-be developers of the property. Marion County staff and elected officials. Consultants. Contrators. Attorneys. Employees of state and federal agencies. Newspaper reporters. And more...
Life ends up getting boiled down. This is its nature.
Someone recently asked me, "How long have you been married?" I said, "Twenty years." Two words. Just two. Yet what they represent, point to, signify, mean to me... the thickest book in the world wouldn't be enough to capture all of that.
On my other blog I've written about this is it. Not the movie about Michael Jackson, but the realization that each and every moment in life never will come again.
Not only that: the memory, traces, and remembrances of moments become increasingly condensed with time. The day after Laurel and I were married, I could describe to someone almost everything we'd experienced since our "I do's." (Keeping a few intimacies confidential, of course.)
Now, no way.
I can't even recall most of what has happened during our marriage, just as most of what has transpired in the course of our fight against the subdivision has disappeared from both the legal record and my psyche's recollections.
This is life.
It goes on, until it doesn't. Past moments are replaced by present ones. Even the satisfaction we may feel upon remembering a prior accomplishment or pleasure is occurring now.
When I was younger, I had the misconception that my life would be a success if I achieved great things. Now, at sixty-two, I've realized this is a fantasy. Small things are all I have. They don't aggregate, clump, or combine into big things.
It's time for a dog walk. That's a small thing. Which for me (and the family pet, Serena), is the same as a big thing.