When we moved to the country, we imagined more of a hermit lifestyle. There are 25 households on our 3/4 mile long dead-end dirt road, each with a minimum of 2.5 acres. The ones with horses have ten. You can’t see many houses. Acres of woods surround us. I was worried that I’d never meet any neighbors. The truth is, the more rural you get, the more community you get. We all recognize on some level that we need each other. Even the hermits wave.
We moved here in January, 2007, in the middle of a blizzard. Neighbors still remember that winter because everyone lost power for a full week. Losing power is an especially big deal when you’re on a well and suddenly have no water. It’s the 19th century again — candles, buckets of water to flush the toilets, gallons of water heating on the wood stove. Neighbor kids home from school hang out on the road and keep everyone informed. Most of the time, it’s so dark and cold we just hunker down. We all live in a valley.
In the summer, though, the days are long and the neighborhood warms up. The triathletes run with their baby stroller. The horses get saddled up and exercised, and the alpacas get sheered. They roll over and scratch their backs in the sun like kittens. Puppies chase roosters, and then roosters chase puppies, and men who are turning 65 buy Mustangs. “Stay out of his way!” the wife says to us as she drives by, “It’s a standard!”
You can’t force friendship (especially on cats), but neighbors in my experience are only rarely friends. They’re neighbors. And, for the first time since my childhood, I know the name of pretty much every family on our road. Everyone knows us because we walk our golden retriever Ruby every day, and because we fill the potholes.
One neighbor is an inventor and is currently marketing a gardening tool called the Hardy Pull. It works. Another has recently returned from Japan where he experienced the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. He’s threatening a slide show to us neighbors this summer. We have a firefighter, a cop, a serious badminton player, a high school computer/robot club advisor, and a nuclear submarine mechanic (who has offered to get us a tour) all right here on our little road. Out in the middle of nowhere. Our beloved 80-year-old chiropractor neighbor, frequently renowned as the smartest person on the road, died two years ago.
And no, it’s not all peace and love. I can’t really just lay out tales available to tell. Someone would likely sue us. Maybe shoot us. Virtually every household is armed. There are lots of concealed carry permits for sure. The hermitage sneaks back in here.
“Engage your core!” my nursing student daughter sings out from the deck. I’m digging in the garden, turning the soil for all the sprouts in the hoop house. After I yell back “Engage YOUR core!” I smile and give her a thumb’s up. I tighten my torso before I plunge the shovel deep back into the soil.
We added three inches of topsoil when we first built the garden, but didn’t till it in. Now I’m involving all parent material as the soil scientists (pedologists) say — clay, silt, sand, minerals, organic humus. I have a gardener friend who actually trucked in the soil from her father’s garden to her garden when he sold the family home. The contents of soil are living links, the medium of growth and change. An inch of fertile soil takes a thousand years to be formed in nature. We had 3 inches hauled in at once.
I breathe the smell in, taste it on the sensitive places of my tongue. Earth. I ponder the soil of my life, the elements of family, friends, and neighbors, as I hold my core steady.
It’s been 30 years since the Bearded One went on a 7,500 mile motorcycle trip throughout the U.S., sleeping by the side of the road for months, and this week his riding partner pulled into our driveway on a bike — Kawasaki 1200.
He’s been on the road a week, from Memphis, Tennessee to Utah and then up to Idaho and then over to us. Canada yet to come. Over 2,300 miles so far, and all of it full of potholes. Except for our road.