July 4th is here again. It's one holiday without an ethnic, religious or specific hobby for existing. It is just a celebration of this fine country. March with the parades, sing the patriotic songs, go to the beach, enjoy time with family and friends.
But it does stand for something, which most of us know by heart. "All men are created equal with certain inalienable rights - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The pledge of allegiance adds "with liberty and justice for all." We can be grateful that this is a place where law and order prevails. I can walk or drive and expect to get home without bloodshed. Or I can drive to visit friends in Oregon and expect to get there safely. Think of Iraq, Syria and Egypt where one can't attend a funeral, or just go out, without danger of being shot or blown up.
Law and order prevails only where each citizen believes in it and acts responsibly. Lack of morality in terrorist organizations undermines all civilization.
English Common Law, which is our heritage, began a thousand years ago with the Magna Carta. More recently, in America, our founding fathers promulgated the philosophy of freedom that has guided this country. Not always perfectly followed, or even honestly, but the ideal always remains.
We also have a civilized, modern country. I started to think: what are my essential needs and where do those services come from? After food and shelter, my choices, in order of importance, are electricity, clean water (and sewerage), passable roads (plowed in winter), emergency, fire and ambulance services, even garbage disposal. My grandfather had to burn his in the backyard.
The most interesting thing about these essential services is that they are all supplied by our local town government. Police, fire, highway, electric and water departments. We can call on them for help and they keep our civilization functioning. We all pay taxes and usage fees, but the alternative is an undeveloped country.
Think of Africa. Unpaved roads, Little or no fire protection. Robbery and high jacked cars. Overwhelmed or bad police. I don't even want to mention garbage or "night soil" fertilizer for vegetables.
Our town also has lots of non-essential but desired services that contribute to our "pursuit of happiness." Schools, sports fields, playgrounds, street lights, libraries, woods and meadows, tree planting, town beautification, community centers, health and veterans services and cemeteries. Again, all these are supplied by local town departments. Not by the squabbling politicians who monopolize radio, TV, newspapers and the web. Democracy may be a messy system of government with different groups always vying for their own advantage, or for power or for money, but the locals keep things functioning. Not just the town, but even our food and shelter is mostly supplied by local stores, farms and repairmen.
So enjoy our town's amenities and the good folks who give them to us. It's probably not what Thomas Jefferson had in mind, but then he had lots of slaves for his needs and amenities. And on this Independence Day, let's all celebrate our civilized, modern society with its "liberty and justice for all." How lucky we are.
Ruth S. Foster is a landscape consultant and arborist. More gardening information can be found on her website: www.mothersgarden.net.