When I moved to the tiny hamlet of Pine, high in the mountains of Arizona, my city friends who I now refer to as flatlanders started to kid me about my primitive, small-town lifestyle.
"What's there to do?" they'd ask.
"You'd be surprised," I'd say.
What could beat a Friday night fish fry followed by a junior high play in the cultural hall, or Saturday night bingo with the Kiwanis Club in Pine, or dinner and dancing at the Black Bear Restaurant in Strawberry?
We play in the snow in the winter and swim in Fossil Creek's emerald green pools in the summer.
In the fall, we hike beneath the red, orange and yellow leaves that cast brilliant reflections in our local creeks, and in the spring we romp through meadows carpeted with wildflowers that lazily sway their heads in the light, warm breeze.
We sit on our deck and wave to our neighbors as they drive by, and we lean conspiratorially over the rail when they stop by to chat.
The folks who live here off the beaten path have combined small-town charm with modern conveniences, making this one of the best places to live on earth.
Fire and water
The people of Pine and Strawberry finished two important projects, just in time for the new millennium. The Strawberry Pond, a reservoir project sponsored by the Pine-Strawberry Improvement Association, was completed to provide the community's first-class fire department with water reserves. The pond, which is near the corner of Dan's Highway and Bob's Bend, is expected to attract wildlife to the area, provide residents with a scenic walking area, and help lower insurance rates.
A new community alert system also was completed this year, providing residents with an early warning siren system for wildfires, floods, tanker spills and other disasters
The Pine-Strawberry Fire Department and the Pine-Strawberry Emergency Task Force gathered more than $80,000 to install five sirens throughout Pine and Strawberry to alert residents of impending danger. Every time residents and visitors hear the sirens, they are asked to tune their radios to KMOG 1420 AM for emergency update information.
There are two sirens in Strawberry, one on the east end of the community and one on the west end.
There are three sirens in Pine: one in the county yard on Old County Road and Bradshaw; one at the fire station on Hardscrabble Road and Prince Drive; and one in Pine Creek Canyon near the Pine Mountain Acres subdivision.
In the works
Several projects are scheduled to begin in 2000, including the drilling of an exploratory water well up to 2,000 feet deep near Pine, the construction of a pipeline connecting water systems in Pine and Strawberry,
and the widening of Fossil Creek Road in Strawberry.
For years, water experts have speculated that a vast underground "river" runs deep under Pine and could provide the community with a rich, reliable supply of water. This year, with the help of the Pine-Strawberry Improvement District, Gila County and the U.S. Geological Survey, residents will find out if it's true.
Another water project, which has been in the works for two years, also is expected to begin this year. Brooke Utilities has cleared all the hurdles necessary to build a pipeline connecting its water system in Strawberry with the water-poor community of Pine.
During the summer, when Pine normally runs short of water, excess water from Strawberry will be diverted from Strawberry to Pine via the pipeline.
Another bit of progress is the Fossil Creek improvement project, although it probably won't seem like progress while it's under construction. Once it is finished, however, the road will be wide enough for two cars and will include a walking path.
Making the grade
Fifth-grade students at Pine-Strawberry School can now take laptop computers home, steering the whole family onto the information superhighway. During the year, students will be assigned laptops, much like they're assigned classroom books. Students will be allowed to take the computers home at night, enabling the student and his or her family to learn technology together.
Mixing the new with the old, our sixth-grade students kept the traditional exchange of culture alive this year. For the 13th year, P-S sixth-graders crossed the border to Cucurpe, Sonora, Mexico and spent a week living in the "other guy's" shoes.
It seems we have taken a number of big steps this year, and change is not always easy, but this community wears it well. Each step of progress has had its supporters and its opponents, but through it all, we've remained friends. The people of this community are exceptional, and they're the reason I live here.
When we meet at the craft fair, the market, a restaurant or gas station, we chat about the weather, the latest buzz and our families. We work together to raise money for the students at school or gather together to just watch them perform.
My city friends can't let their children walk around the block by themselves, but I know my girls are being watched by friends with each step they take. Living in a small town is about extended family. I love to brag and boast about mine.