PORTLAND – It might not be obvious to you why the Trayvon Martin case in Sanford, Fla., got me thinking about daffodils by a Portland sidewalk. So let me explain.

George Zimmerman was patrolling his neighborhood with a gun, on the lookout for suspicious activity, on the night that he allegedly shot the 17-year-old Martin.

Lots of Americans share Zimmerman’s view that arming oneself is the best way — indeed, the only way — to protect one’s safety. The Press Herald recently reported that ammunition sales are skyrocketing as Americans build up their personal arsenals (“Non-military ammunition sales rising,” April 7).

I believe that the best way to protect ourselves against the real threats that we face is to get to know our neighbors. Not just to recognize them and wave hello as they drive by, but to reach out and know enough about their lives so that we can help them in a pinch — and they will do the same for us.

What are the most likely dangers in our lives?

It’s not strangers lurking in the bushes, ready to leap out at us. We are far more likely to slip on the ice and twist an ankle, or to need help during an electrical outage. Some of us might seek shelter when a relative gets violent. Those are times when neighbors could make a real difference.

So, what does that have to do with daffodils?

During the past 25 years, I’ve lived in five Portland neighborhoods. Some just seemed to jell. People enjoyed each other’s company. They stopped frequently to chat or drop off garden produce. They shoveled each other out after snowstorms.

Other neighborhoods seemed a little more standoffish; perhaps it was just the Yankee way of respecting other’s privacy. But a little effort by one or two people can turn even those blocks into close communities.

Here are some ideas to try:

Start a neighborhood tradition such as a yard sale, progressive dinner, July Fourth cookout, block party or parade. In my current neighborhood, we have a new tradition of a blizzard tea, during one of those big snowstorms where you can’t go anywhere anyway.

Organize a regular neighborhood walk. Several of my neighbors take their dogs on a 7 p.m. nightly constitutional. This walk is not just for the canines; there’s lots of gabbing along the way.

Share tools. Why does everyone on the block need to invest in a lawnmower or snowblower? Pooling tools can save money and perhaps open the door to helping each other on house projects.

Move at least part of the focus of your life from your backyard to the front. That’s where the daffodils come in. Seeing spring bulbs or sunflowers on the strip between the sidewalk and the road cheers me because I know that someone took the trouble to tend that patch for all to enjoy.

Last year, I participated in a community discussion at Preble Street Resource Center where people shared ideas for improving our city and state.

One young man suggested having neighbors check on the elderly people on their street to see if anyone was at risk of going without heat because of the high price of fuel oil. Now that’s a type of neighborhood watch that I can get behind.

This is the perfect time of year to try out community-building strategies. Neighbors have emerged from hibernation. They’re working in the yard or biking down the street, and many are probably eager to build stronger bonds with the people who live near them.

That way, when a young person like Trayvon Martin walks down the street, we’ll know his name. Maybe we’ll ask how school is going, or how his sports team is doing. He might compliment us on our garden. We’ll feel safer — and our lives will be enriched — by knowing those who live nearby.

Shoshana Hoose is a resident of Portland.