Sure it was 117 degrees a few days ago and we have to drive more than an hour to buy organic vegetables or underwear. We don’t have a movie theater or a Thai restaurant and the summer population is less than the number of students in most high schools, but there is something about Borrego Springs.
Maybe it’s the way the sunrise turns the mountains to a rosy glow, or maybe it’s all those stars sprinkled across the enormous night sky. Maybe it’s the coyotes’ songs in early mornings, or the sound of quail calling each other as they scurry through the brush.
Or maybe it’s the people. Although we’re spread out across the valley, we meet daily at the post office and at the market. Our homes aren’t close, but we are. People wave as they drive past each other. There is a sense of family and responsibility for each other here.
We have extremely varied economic levels, diverse degrees of education, and our population ranges from newborn babies to the el-derly. Some of us work, some of us are retired, and some of us volunteer. We are golfers, hikers, bicyclists, and some of us are inactive. Not all of us speak English, but we still smile and nod because we are neighbors.
We’re proud and defensive of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Our homes are completely surrounded by it and its presence guarantees that we will never grow as other desert communities have — covering fragile lands with buildings and destroying unending views. We are defensive of our dry lakes, our ocotillo forest, our sand dunes, and our wildlife. We find amazing beauty and serenity in this harsh landscape.
When we have disasters, state park rangers work side by side with sheriff’s deputies and California Highway Patrolmen — and we know them all by name.
Maybe it’s our isolation from the rest of the county and our uniqueness that make us feel this connection to each other. We do have our differences and we bicker and argue, but, as in real families, we gather round to defend and protect each other if one of us is threatened or needs help.
There is the man who, when he hears of a family having hard times, has groceries delivered to the home, with no message or card. The same man spends his Sunday placing bottles of water in the desert for people who may need it.
Our mechanics stop and help if someone is having car trouble in a parking lot or on the road. One of them stopped his work for a woman who was on her way to see her husband in the hospital. He fixed her car quickly and sent her on her way with a hug and good wishes for her husband, no charge.
A man on his way back to work after lunch saw smoke, called 911, raced to the neighbor’s house, and fought the fire until the fire department arrived.
A Borrego couple had a flat tire in Ramona. A man driving by stopped to see if they needed help; he didn’t know them, but recognized the car from home.
When we had a tragic accident that cost the life of one of our teenagers, the churches immediately gathered and held a candlelight service in our little park — Christmas Circle — the center of our neighborhood.
In line at the grocery store, a man realized he had forgotten his wallet. A woman handed him the money he needed.
A woman whose husband needed medicine arrived at the post office after the window was closed. She looked through her post office box and saw legs walking back and forth. She called out, explaining there was a package of medicine she needed. The employee opened the window and gave her the package of medicine with a smile and said she hoped the woman’s husband would be better soon.
Festivals, parades, and wildflowers bring thousands of tourists to Borrego, but the Cinco de Mayo celebration is ours. We lounge on the grass at Christmas Circle and listen to music. We eat too much food, sing with the bands, and visit with our neighbors. Grandparents snuggle on the dance floor, children dressed in their finest go home dirty and smiling after an exciting time. It’s a day of laughter and sharing and closeness.
It’s an hour to the closest hospital. Many businesses close in the summer. Radio reception is iffy. Cellular phones don’t work in all areas. Most of us don’t have mail delivery. It’s cold in the winter and so hot in summer that the cold water is as hot as the water that comes from the hot water faucet.
But there’s something about Borrego…something more than the spectacular views, rose-colored mountains, and star-filled skies — it’s our neighbors.