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Wednesday, March 21 Opinion

Woog's World: A star-spangled salute to things that make Westport special

Happy Fourth of July!

OK, the Declaration of Independence was probably signed on Aug. 4. And John Adams, who was right about most things, wrote his wife, Abigail, that "the 2nd day of July, 1776 will be the most memorable epoch in American history."

And yeah, Westport usually shoots off fireworks on July 3rd. Sometimes, the 2nd. We've even done the 1st and the 5th. The reasons are murky. Perhaps it's because the barge rental is cheaper that day. Perhaps it's to avoid paying holiday wages to cops, public works guys and other municipal employees. Maybe it's just that this is Westport, where we do things our own damn way.

Whatever. Independence Day -- the entire holiday weekend, in fact -- is a time to honor America. To wrap ourselves in red, white and blue, even if technically we shouldn't be desecrating the flag by using it as a towel, bandanna or boxer shorts.

Independence Day is a time to think about what makes this country great. We don't always do that. We're too busy making potato salad, saving beach tables despite big signs saying "Saving beach tables is not allowed," and complaining about all the things that are wrong with America. But from time to time it doesn't hurt to sit back and reflect on the fact that, compared to much of the rest of the world, our country has it pretty good.

And compared to much of the rest of the country, our town has it very good indeed.

We are blessed with enormous physical beauty. A friend once called Hillspoint Road from Schlaet's Point to Old Mill Beach "the most beautiful spot in America." And while that is a bit of a stretch -- Alaska, anyone? Zion National Park? The entire Pacific Coast? -- it is just one of many sights those of us who live here every day take for granted.

The other day, someone calling himself "DJI Phantom 2" posted a video on YouTube. Taken by a drone at sunset, it shows aerial views of the coast, from Saugatuck Shores to Compo Cove. It's a perspective we never get, of a shoreline we seldom think of beyond the patch we occupy at any particular moment.

But taken in its entirety -- the vast sweep of marinas and boat basins; the incredible diversity of Longshore, with its golf course, tennis courts, swimming pool, patio bar and inn; the Compo sand, barbecue tables, basketball court, softball diamond, Joey's and Soundview Drive; yes, the winding stretch from Schlaet's Point to Elvira's; the hidden gem of Old Mill Beach and glorious Sherwood Mill Pond -- it is one of the more magnificent stretches of Fairfield County.

The drone also shows us how verdant Westport is. We tend not to think of our town as particularly lush, but that may be a case of not seeing the forest for the (ho ho) trees. This aerial view -- from just a couple of hundred feet high -- demonstrates definitively that the canopy remains vibrant.

Photos from just a few decades ago show that much of Westport was once open farmland. Despite years of development -- and much teeth-gnashing over the destruction of old, handsome growth -- we are a town filled with tall, leafy trees. Look with fresh eyes as you drive around. You'll be pleasantly amazed.

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But physical beauty is only part of what we should celebrate this Independence Day. Our country was founded by people who thought for themselves -- thought about abstract concepts like liberty and freedom. They thought about their place in the world, and what it meant to be a new nation. Those must have been heady times.

These days, American can't even agree whether five is less than 15. But this town is blessed with institutions like the library, Westport Country Playhouse and Westport Arts Center. They're places where we can stretch our minds, test out ideas, think and probe and wonder. Westport is physically beautiful, sure, but there is a different kind of beauty to be found when we stand inside a building, too. We are so fortunate to have many such spots.

But ultimately, a town -- any community -- is nothing without its people. It citizens. And here, Westport is truly rich. We can measure wealth in many ways -- Main Street rents, home prices, bank accounts -- but only one way truly matters. It is the wealth of human capital.

Westport in 2014 is worlds removed from Philadelphia in 1776. But just as a group of men gathered there one hot summer to create a better nation, so too do men (and women) work hard here every day, all year long, to create the best community they know.

How lucky we are to live here. Thank you, founding fathers -- and thank you, Westport fathers and mothers. Happy Fourth of July!

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his "Woog's World" appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.