Resolution, Re-Solution

March 31, 1995|By BARBARA MALLONEE

To be resolute is not to be stubborn or implacable, immovable or even merely firm. ''Resolute'' bespeaks conviction born not of dark determination, but of light.

''In my town,'' wrote E.B. White in 'One man's Meat,' '' we have learned that town meeting is no place to decide anything. We thrash out problems well in advance, working in small queues and with a long history of spite as a background.'' In my part of Baltimore, north of City Hall, we call our small civic gatherings community or neighborhood meetings. Mt. Washington residents are strong-minded folk, with a long political history of right decisions, reached through resolving to resolve issues in a democratic way.

Neighbors have met in one another's homes since the start of the new year to talk about trees. From the Jones Falls Expressway west to Pimlico Road, there runs along Northern Parkway a wide swatch of woodland that defines the southern edge of Mt. Washington. Across the way lie the Cylburn arboretum, Sinai hospital, then Levindale, then the 10-acre blacktop parking lot for Pimlico Racetrack. Our wood is among the last few pieces of undeveloped land left along a thoroughfare that runs from Belair Road on the east to Liberty Road on the west.

In a city, woods are welcoming, even in the dead of winter when trees look spare and bare. A single structure will beget an infrastructure of exclusion, traffic and trespass pushed to the edge by sidewalks, byways, highways that bar access and channel the route we take. Undeveloped, woods seem a last vestige of wide open spaces, beckoning us to wander in among the trees where what is free runs free.

No one yet owns the water and wildlife that weave at will through urban woods. Someone does own the woods. My neighbors first gathered because a 4.3-acre tract along Northern Parkway, owned by the Associated Jewish Community Federation of rTC Baltimore, is to be sold. The Associated feels a fiduciary 'N responsibility to donors.

Legal language tours uptown and Neighbors find ways to talk about trees.

downtown, delivering decisions that squash public opinion. Only mile from Mt. Washington, in the face of considerable community opposition, the city has permitted Ryland Homes to build a town-house development -- called the Woodlands at Coldspring -- altering the southern border of Cylburn Park. On the heels of that exercise of fiduciary responsibility, one well might ponder the use of discussing land use for our wood.

But the Associated is private, not public. It respects a neighborhood that has earned political prowess. It respects the views of donors who live in our neighborhood. The Associated, the Mt. Washington Improvement Association and a host of residents have had ample impetus to thrash the issue out.

The Associated says it has no offer in hand for the land, but it cannot hold the land in its hand any longer. A charity cannot be charitable, so it cannot give the land to a preservation trust. Discussion has run like wildfire as divergent opinions have rattled back and forth: To shelter red fox and songbirds is sound use. To be, for a community, a boundary subtler than a brick wall is not to be useful enough. To shield a community from noise and fumes is prudent use. To offer thousands of dogged commuters a break in an urban landscape is not use that can be tallied as can cold cash collected at time of sale. In neighborhood meetings, rage and remorse have risen as articulate people have pushed patterns of thinking that to them seem reasoned and right.

To be resolute is not to be absolute. Resolving must include re-solving, retracing, retracting, reworking old ground. It is easy to stand, stolid, in the dark of a rainy night when everyone is cold and tired and the mood is bleak. But from hours of bitter exchange in long meetings come better and better strategies, some concession, some warmth -- and always, finally, a moment of enlightenment. Late in the evening, a voice speaks, an older voice, an arresting voice, whose sound shapes certainty, whose words are patently wise. Everyone listens, considers, feels resolution dissolve into solution.

After months of discussion, all parties in this dispute now see that our Mt. Washington wood should remain a woodland, owned by its community preserved in a compact of land trust. Further large and small meetings lie ahead to arrange and rearrange the details of a good deed, and they too will be contentious, but the matter moves ahead. Driving along Northern Parkway, I pass the dark wood, and I think how a woodland grows. Though woods are by nature winnowed, trees do not deliberately crowd all other trees out. The older trees are joined by saplings that grow tall beside them. If branches twist and grow gnarled, their trunks do not. They rise, straight and upright. It is the nature of all trees to push up toward the light.

And at the crest of the forest, in the crown of the oldest trees, branches move and bend. Up there, none holds sway for very long. Up there begins a breeze that even in the fiercest heat cools things down as changing winds blow free.

Barbara Mallonee chairs the Writing and Media Department at Loyola College.

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