It is January 20 and the temperature outside is 35 degrees. We are watching the inauguration and my wife mutes the TV to ask, “Is that a lawnmower I hear?” She gets up from the couch and moves to the window. “It is! She’s mowing the lawn!” Our neighbor; our eccentric, neat-freak neighbor. She is taking a swing along the no-climb farm fencing that demarcates our two very different ideas about lawn care. She pauses to get off of her lawn tractor to pick up a few small limbs that have fallen from our Douglas Firs and throws them over onto our side. As in the autumn, when she blows the leaves that have fallen from our Big Leaf Maple back through the fence, we, and our native sword ferns are grateful for the future humus.
One really wouldn’t need to see a fence to know where one property ends and the other begins, as our yards could not be any different. We have visible weeds in the somewhat longish grass; they spray herbicide on their lawn, and during warmer weather, they mow twice a week. In fact, sometimes she mows in the morning, and when the husband comes home from work, he mows again. In the dryness of July, the dust flies. We say they are mowing their dirt. We have big, old, messy, trees that keep much of our yard and house in shade; their house sits out in what may be best compared to a five-acre golf course fairway with neatly manicured small bushes and trees. We have gopher and mole mounds dotting our property, some right up to the fence; their soil must be so compacted from the constant mowing that no rodent or even worm can make passage. Along the north side of their property another neighbor has a row of smaller firs, The canopy of these trees comes over onto their side of the fence, or would, if the woman did not get up on a ladder each year and trim them flush with the fence line.
It may not be surprising that we have never spoken to these neighbors in the five years we have lived here. Initially, we thought it was because we didn’t get off on the right foot. After we purchased the property, we assessed that several Maples in the yard were at the end of their life cycles, as there was significant evidence of disease. In that these trees were sixty-feet tall, they were a hazard and had to be removed. The tree removal company did the work while we returned to Chicago to finalize the move. Upon our return, the arborist related a phone call from the neighbor, complaining about the amount of leaves and small branches that had fallen onto their property. He said that she was livid, even though he had assured us that he had done his best to clean up after the work. We thought about going over to apologize for the inconvenience, but something about their landscaping, a meticulousness, told me it would be fruitless. We thought it better just to stay out of their way as best we could.
Believe me, if circumstances were different, I would go over and clean up the fallen limbs and leaves myself, but truth be told, I am afraid of stepping foot on their property. I worry that there may be a litigious side to their personalities. We took this into account when we had the old, decaying apple trees removed that threatened to fall in the next strong east wind and land on one of their outbuildings. The same arborist did the job, with one hitch: a big branch of one tree had to come down onto their property. In the process, part of the fence was crushed a bit. I was able to repair the fence quite easily, and once the limb was cut up and removed from their lawn, I personally went over the fence (feeling like a criminal all the while) and cleaned up everything except the wood chips that lay mixed into the grass. That evening I saw the husband raking the area with a vigorous disdain that suggested someone had defiled his yard with human excrement.
My wife shares my worry that at some point in the future we might have legal problems with these neighbors. And, since she likes to cover all of the bases in such matters, she thought it would be prudent to get a survey of our property. The surveyors marked the boundaries with four-foot wooden stakes that are spray-painted neon pink at the top. They can be seen from two-hundred yards away. The one stake that caught our attention was the one by the road between the two properties. As it turns out, our neighbor’s fence is a full six inches on our property! It is with glee that we leave that marker in place.
As I look out across our yard and make note of the tree limbs and downed trees that I have yet to remove after our last wind storm, I wonder what our neighbors must think of us. I suspect it is with more than a modicum of disdain. My attitude: those limbs aren’t going anywhere, and they’re certainly not doing any more harm than what has already been done; I’ll eventually get to them. The limbs would be long gone were they to be on our neighbor’s property, for they are, besides being a bit wacky, certainly industrious. I watch in awe as they set to cutting, splitting and stowing four cords of wood in one day’s time. They paint their house and outbuildings every year. The man is a master car-restorer and has a 1964 olive Chevy Nova that I covet. No, they cannot be all bad, for on more than one occasion, just as the sun is setting and their day in their yard is finished, I have seen them walk back to the house holding hands.