What started as a conversation between myself and Lead Pastor James Ruiz 10 or so days ago led to today's makeover of the triangle of property adjacent to the Oracle Post Office. A team from his church worked hard all morning to weed whack, prune and haul away the cuttings.
As pictured here the Living Word team really got after it. Their skills were applied to multiple tasks including the pruning of trees and shrubs which requires delicacy and even artistry. Pictured below is Fina Guisinger who rose to that challenge along with others she coached.
There's more to this story than meets the eye and what meets the eyes is quite strikingly beautiful. As owners of the land (really temporary stewards) today's work raised our sights in the direction of a parklike setting with trails suitable for wandering, reflection, bird watching and appreciation of the glory of Creation.
Since its "founding" in 1880, Oracle has grown in its own unique way. Sure, small subdivisions were built to accommodate miners flocking to jobs in the San Manuel mine in the mid 1950s, but no way does Oracle resemble a company town or a planned community. In fact, Otown contrasts sharply with the old corporate town model built by Magma Copper 10 miles east or the new corporate cookie-cutters of SaddleBrooke / SaddleBrooke Ranch 10 miles west. Touting the twin SaddleBrookes as the gold standard of planned development design, Robson Luxury Development moguls called Oracle a "hodgepodge". I think most of us who live here would take that as a compliment.
When Kaz and I bought our home in Oracle in 1979 there were no building codes, multiple unnamed streets, and bits and pieces of zoning with no overarching plan. County oversight was almost non-existent. Folks built however the spirit moved them. Much of Otown looked like what's pictured above - open and beautiful. To be sure the subdivisions - Oracle Village and Los Robles "Estates" and Mitman Addition - were planned and hooked into sewer, electric and water service on a modest scale (but without HOA governed restrictions and gated entries).
When it came to marketing, individual business enterprises took that on. Lamar Cotton for example, placed ads far and wide in newspapers advertising his subdivisions. Rancho Linda Vista (RLV) made a name for itself (and Oracle) by launching a "dude ranch" with a national following. Later, a chamber of commerce formed up - SMOR (San Manuel Oracle Region) - that never seemed to gain much traction or community support and ironically never approached the "marketing" impact of RLV which morphed into an arts and crafts mecca and set the stage for the Oracle of today.
In the 1980s, mega development schemes were proposed for Oracle by the likes of Cherokee Development that sought to ring the town with 25,000 homes. But that venture crashed and burned as local opposition and an economic down blip took their toll.
These days, Oracle still follows the individual business marketing model, with local ventures mostly doing their own thing. So you get the idea. While economic development used to be thought of primarily as bringing in large enterprises with lots of jobs (Magma Copper's mine, mill, railroad and smelter, for example), smaller scale options now seem to make more sense to us locals who value small town life and our special place in it.
The image above captures the work of a local collaboration between the Community Garden, Darrell Klesch's rockwork, Quentin Branch and Julie Szekely's rammed earth and Sharon Holnbach's gateway metal work. Masters all of their craft. It represents a "hodgepodge" of talents drawn together through a labor of love.
Maybe Steve Soriano, Ed Robson's tout, was on to something when he and his planning gurus described Oracle as hodgepodge. Lots of different kinds of people living in lots of different sorts of housing making livings lots of different ways. Maybe when it comes to quality of life, that beats the alternatives.
When Kaz and I got back from two weeks away our land resembled an untended farm in upstate New York. It's quite remarkable - a second straight year of Big Weed after Big Monsoon.
Looking around the town it's clear that Oracle residents have adopted a variety of strategies in response. They very widely, running the gamut from the "let it grow/do nothing" position on the one hand to the "blade and grade" position on the other. In the vast middle are the rest of us, anxiously eye balling to our neighbors, hoping to avoid the humiliation of being judged slackers on the weed front. Not to mention hoping to reduce fire risk after the potential fuels dry out.
During weed season someone is always firing up some sort of gas powered engine to have a go at the growth. They range from heavy equipment like tractors and riding mowers down to tinker toy corded and/or battery powered hand held line trimmers.
The tradeoffs are obvious because the tinker toys don't pollute and the gas guzzlers do. But the tinker toys can't deal with Big Weed very well and take forever on the small stuff. And anyway there are plenty of options in between to which most of us resort.
Weed whacking has its own language and skill set. (Do you use an 80 or a 95 (that's short for .08 line vs. .095 line)? Stihl, Husquvarna, Echo, Other? Mower or rolling line trimmer? Switch to battery operated? Powerful enough? Hire anybody when overwhelmed? Who? How much? Bump line or auto feed? Measure the trim line or guesstimate? Newfangled head or the old reliable? On and on through a hodgepodge of questions and answers.
There's some folks around town I won't talk politics with, but weeds? Everybody can safely weigh in on weeds and get right down in there with them. Which is what I've been doing a lot of lately.
Oracle is home to a variety of wildlife, running the gamut from deer like the one pictured here, to a black bear frequenting one of our neighbors yard, to bobcats, everpresent javalina and an occasional mountain lion. Overall pretty good company. Of course the bear had to be moved to a different location and the javalina can be a pain in the ass.
Oracle is a pretty good little walking town. Lots of folks are up and about early these days to beat the heat and enjoy the landscape. Some are quite disciplined - daily, twice daily, couples, groups, even step counters racking up big numbers.
For myself it's beauty of place, the company, the encounters with friends and (sometimes new) neighbors that makes the walkabouts so gratifying.
When you think about it, it's a whole lot safer to meet strangers on the road than walking up a driveway and banging on the front door. In that case you might be greeted by a cold stare leveled behind cold steel. That happened in our neighborhood to a woman who thought she was approaching the right house hosting a baby shower. Wrong. The experience left her shaken, even traumatised.
Speaking of being traumatised, how would you react to encountering someone who looks like this?
I freaked out until Kaz assured me it was just our next door neighbor walking while netted.
Kaz and I moved to Oracle in 1979. The house we bought dated to the late 1940s. With little advance knowledge of the place, we set out to build a new life together, intending to settle in and raise a family.