In this election season America is being bombarded with messages from the Republican right about how we need less government and more liberty. Let businesses and people make their own decisions. I learned a lesson yesterday about liberty.
Wendy and I were taking a walk through El Granada where we live. At the top of Coral Reef Avenue we step onto a trail that leads us out of the little suburban neighborhood and up into the hills. Vast open spaces high above the harbor and ocean, carpeted with wildflowers, where clusters of pampas grass, glowing in the sun and waving in the wind, dot the hillsides.
We see a couple of little girls, about seven and four years old, absorbed in playing a board game as they sit on a bench overlooking the harbor.
30 years ago when I first moved here, there were no trails above Coral Reef Avenue, only a rutted, muddy roadway where countless motorcycles and pickup trucks had made their way into the hills. The land was owned by a large corporation that was planning to build subdivisions with hundreds of homes. It was littered with mounds of garbage where bands of Hells Angels and drunken teenagers had partied. Parents warned their children about going into the hills, and it wasn’t safe for women alone. I haven’t been here for a long time.
Wendy and I follow the trail up the hillside and marvel at the views. An elderly couple and their two dogs pass us on the trail and wave. After a while Wendy decides to head back home. I watch her for a moment as she walks down the trail.
I enjoy the rest of my walk. It’s calm and peaceful up here, beautiful, great exercise.
On my way back down I see a National Park Service car. A park ranger is standing outside the car, writing something on a clipboard.
“Beautiful day!” I say.
“Yeah, it sure is!” He tells me how he’s been spending his day, checking out sections of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area between San Francisco and here.
“Is this land part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area?” I say.
“Yeah!” He says. “This is the southern end of the park, and one of my favorite places.” A local non-profit, Peninsula Open Space Trust, acquired the land and transferred it to the National Park Service.
“Wow, that’s great!” I say.
“Well,” he says, “I get mixed responses from people here.”
“Really? How come?”
“Some people don’t want to see me here, especially when I have to enforce the rules. For instance, no motor vehicles in the park, and no trash.” He gestures up to a pickup truck on the hillside. Two guys in their early 20s are pacing around nervously, smoking cigarettes. He’s writing them a citation. “There are other people here too who see me as the long arm of the government in Washington reaching into their neighborhood, taking away their liberty.”
I look back up at the two guys. They look agitated. I think about the two little girls, and the old couple with their dogs, and Wendy walking alone back alone. Liberty for whom, I think. Liberty to do what? How do we establish and secure that liberty?
I look back at the park ranger. “I’ve lived here for 30 years,” I say, “and I’m glad you’re here doing your job. Welcome to our neighborhood!”