Essays > Village Life: If nothing delights us, we get mean

            Recently, on my way to a writing gig in Crested Butte, Colo. -- one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen, by the way -- my handlers slowed down on Route 135 north of Gunnison where the otherwise direct road unaccountably zigzagged.

In that incongruous curve was a scraggly-looking evergreen. "See that?" my chauffeur said. "That's a 900-year-old pinon pine. We fought to make sure the road went around it because we wanted to save it."

Another out-of-towner and I, both writers, gaped at the ancient survivor from the back seat.

"Impressive," I breathed to my seatmate. "I have to write about that when I get home. I'd love my town to take a lesson from these Rocky Mountaineers."

I know it sounds crazy, but just imagine. Imagine wanting to save something grand and incomparable, something that's survived way longer than the rest of us, something that might help us cherish and reflect upon our own history.

It's downright un-American. Certainly un-Flintonian.

For example, the night I got back, the Flint Journal depressingly announced that Circuit Judge Archie Hayman dismissed a lawsuit that attempted to preserve four charming homes in the Manning Street Historic District in the Cultural Center. The decision probably kills efforts to save this idiosyncratic little faerie compound -- to make way for a parking lot.

I'm very happy to hear that there are 4,000 students enrolling in the Flint Institute of Music -- especially since arts programs are always on the chopping block in the public schools.

I just don't think this outcome -- even with the plan to move three of the homes to Carriage Town -- is very creative. Why is it, as the Flint Journal declared in its headline, that "blacktop trumps history"?

We of all people, out of all the cities of America, should be suspicious of rationales that privilege the car. What's wrong with us -- having been battered and betrayed by the auto industry for decades, having been left behind by the industry's greed and arrogance, and now beginning to realize that auto emissions are part of the problem imperiling the literal survival of our beautiful blue planet, we still make way at all costs for the anachronous automobile?

Do we have the Stockholm Syndrome?

The next day's paper offered an ironic postscript -- the news that people are leaving Flint at the fifth-fastest rate in the United States. Big surprise.

"This community is in the pits," one man said. Is it any wonder?

In the meantime, I'm preparing to spend the summer in San Pedro, Calif., a small, hard-working town at the harbor in Los Angeles that sometimes reminds me of Flint. And as I depart, I'm thinking about what I'll miss -- the sources of delight that no judge or builder has managed to obliterate:

· The three footbridges over Gilkey Creek. One is at Wellington and Brookside at the west entrance of Woodlawn Park. At the moment it's painted red, white and blue. One's at the intersection of Linwood, Kensington and Brookside, and its green-black and criss-crossed mesh bottom spans the creek at one of its leafiest spots. The third one is at Brookside and Vernon and takes walkers into a little wooded area that's fun to walk through.

· The bells of Woodside Church tolling at 15-minute intervals. When the wind's right I hear them just loudly enough to feel a rush of peace.

· The trains at night -- again, to me, a soothing sound even if passenger uses of the trains are struggling. I like imagining travelers on their way to Chicago or Toronto, buying White Castle cheeseburgers, Vernor's Ginger Ale and bad coffee. Everything tastes better on the train.

· The tree trunks of our silver maples. And have you noticed how, now that they're leafed out, the silver side of the leaves, the underside, glistens up when the wind hits from the west?

· Goldfinches. They're everywhere in the neighborhood, flitting onto feeders -- the best feeders designed so that the birds have to tip over upside down to eat. The bigger, pestier house finches won't feed this way, though I enjoy watching them try.

· A double espresso from Steady Eddy's at the Farmers' Market, likely served up by the friendly Stephanie or by Mike himself, who always has great stories to tell. This is the best espresso in Flint.

A couple of weeks ago I quoted Egyptian writer Ali Salem, interviewed on NPR by Dick Gordon. In describing what he thought might be the road to peace, Salem said the extremists needed jobs -- something to be proud of so that they would not be "miserable." Obviously jobs would help keep people in Flint, as well. But something else grabbed me in his remarks.

He said, "what characterizes the fanatics is that they don't find on earth anything delightful."

This is what so many decision-makers in Flint have never understood -- our human need for delight, for preserving and cherishing what gives us pleasure. If nothing delights us, we get mean. It's not always expensive to get the cure. It does require that we honor our senses and the legacies of others who created delight before we got here.

Patti Warner is a graphic artist who has lived and worked around Flint her entire life. Her varied lines of greeting cards are sold through Tumble Dry Low Cards. Her cards are available throughout Genesee County at Pages Bookstore, Dale's Health Foods, Good Beans Café and in the Flint Farmers' Market at Edna's Spices and Herbs and East End Books and Music.