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"We all live in glassier houses than we imagine …"

I suppose that Robert Frost waxed ironic when he proclaimed that good fences make good neighbors. In my experience, good fences distance neighbors, separating more than property. I've had good neighbors and not so good ones, great fences and crappy ones, even sometimes no fence at all. I built one from scratch nearly forty years ago that still stands as sturdily as when I first set it, pressure-treated posts encased in concrete and cedar pickets painstakingly set. Somebody built a house on what was then an empty field next door, an out-sized place now glowering down on my modest little fence which I only intended to contain the kids when they were small. The kids are long grown. It's somebody else's neighborhood now.

Our latest neighborhood doesn't allow fences, this to allow the free passage of elk and deer through yards that are more mountain meadow than finely-groomed turf, though some persist in presenting the grand illusion that only a closely-cropped green expanse can offer in an arid climate. They're welcome to their water bills.
I'm pickier than I need to be, spraying for the intrusive noxious weeds, and mowing my Buffalo grass fairly close to the ground. My neighbor's yard merges with mine, neither of us really know where the property line lies. We mow over that imaginary line or even leave part of the property unmowed from time to time. We have clear line of sight into each other's business. I last week waved at the neighboring eight year old from our deck while she sat at her supper table inside. She returned my thumbs up, giggling.

The Muse helped me get the drip irrigation system turned on yesterday. It's controlled by a twenty year old "computer" of sorts intended to automatically start and stop water flow, but it requires facility with a programming language the gizmo's instruction manual writer clearly never mastered. The Muse has a proven track record of deciphering such gibberish, so I stood outside waiting for the water to flow, confirming that everything worked after overwintering. All was not okay. A pipe had developed a crack in spite of my painstakingly blowing out the system with an air compressor last Fall. We need a plumber to fix that crack. I shut off every outside valve and retired to fuss over how to find a plumber, leaving the master water value open. I figured the small spray around the crack would reduce to nothing as pressure escaped from the system.

An hour later, The Muse called me down stairs to greet our good neighbor Brian, who stopped by to report that we had a leaky pipe. He suggested that I should turn off the master valve. "My system has the same problem and I was just going to fix it. I can fix yours, too, at the same time if you want." Want? Of course. Brian's a handyman, He's improved most of the places in the immediate neighborhood. He never mows his lawn so I mow the part we intersect with. He'd promised to repair our front window damaged in last year's hail storm once the winter receded, so we renewed that agreement. Should start work in the next month.

Savannah, the neighboring eight year old happened by just after that and I pitched her for a gig watching Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat while The Muse and I go to visit South Dakota family next week. Savannah is endlessly curious, asking after almost everything she sees once she's inside the house. She's watched Rose before, and she reminds us that she'd found a dead mouse in the living room that time. I walked her through the cat litter protocol and she didn't blanch. I asked her how much she wanted for her effort and we agreed on a price with a possible big tip if Rose seemed satisfied with her work. She'll get the big tip either way.

When the first wife and I moved into our first house, our next door neighbor Syl quickly adopted us. Syl had been a tough stevedore until a stroke left him with a pronounced limp and a vocabulary limited to a single phrase, "Eggedy, eggedy, eggedy, egg!", which he used to describe and respond to everything. He obviously loved our little boy and would sit for hours on our front steps carrying on his curious monologue. He was a good neighbor and resisted his wife's endless exhortations to stop bothering us. Syl was never any bother at all.

I think privacy overrated. We all live in glassier houses than we imagine and the neighbors know more than we ever suspect. I appreciate the extra sets of eyes noticing if I've gone off and left the garage door open again or texting me when some strange car parks in our driveway. I do the same for them. Mostly, it's no more than a nod of recognition as we pass in the yard or a finger raised in acknowledgement as we drive past, but at root, it's much more than either of those. Our lack of fences make the best of neighbors even when the neighbor dog decides to defend our deck from the security of his own. It's all bark and never any bite with an apology yelled across the shared yard shortly thereafter.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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