Clearly, I am not cut out for condominium living.
I grew up in a household which respected and valued privacy. It was good to be neighborly, but important never to be intrusive. Neighbors who felt and behaved similarly were prized. Those operating from an opposite view of the world were to be politely but firmly discouraged. (The neighbor who waltzed in on my grandmother while she was taking a bath and sat down on the toilet seat to chat, was a favorite cautionary tale from my childhood!)
I speak with my mother nearly every day. During the majority of those phone calls, she mentions some sort of neighborly nuisance, annoyance or frustration she has experienced in her condominium. Before Chuck and I moved to our present home in rural Massachusetts, we lived in a small house in a small city. From our back door I could see fourteen other homes. Before that house, we lived in Worcester. It was a neighborhood of tree lined streets with double deckers, triple deckers and single family homes. In college I managed through four years of dormitory life.
So it is not as if I have lived as a hermit. (Question: By definition, can hermits be married?) But after many years of living in more congested neighborhoods, when we moved to this house, I was delighted to not be able to lay eyes on a single neighbor’s house. Only in winter, when the trees had thoroughly shed their leaves, would our eyes be caught by a neighbor’s lights twinkling in the distance through the bare branches. It was peaceful.
In the first year we lived here, I walked over every part of our land with our elderly Siberian Husky by my side. The only times I was ever scared were when I was all alone out in the back acreage. I sometimes cross country skied by myself. If I took a tumble over a hidden obstacle, I would feel a flash of fear that I might be injured and no one would find me. And I occasionally was lonely. But the quiet, positive, independent aspects of life in the country, far outweighed any minor drawbacks.
We also quickly came to love the field across the road from our home. We herded cows that had strayed from their proper pastures back across it. In winter, we would snowshoe and cross country ski on it. On Sunday afternoons, our neighbors from up the road would ride their horses across the snow covered field; hooves kicking up white sprays which glittered in the icy sunshine. Summer into fall, the farmer from a couple of miles away would hay the field. It was that ritual which inspired the poem I was fortunate to have published. So it came as a bit of a surprise when we learned that our elderly neighbor was dividing up his land into buildable lots and giving them to his children. The shock came when some of the children put for sale signs up on the field. We inquired, but the prices were prohibitive, especially to purchase a field we would keep as a field.
Now there is a house being built across the road from us. It’s a lovely building. Chuck met the owners shortly after the foundation was poured and the frame was erected. He found them friendly and cheerful. But they are neighbors. They are in our sightline. There is a house in that field. It did not fall from the sky like Dorothy’s after the tornado. But something is slipping away; something has already been lost.
I don’t blame the new neighbors. They fell in love with same field we did. They must appreciate this small town with its good school system and just enough amenities to make life convenient. They may not yet know that the pond down the hill has peepers that cheer us through the warming spring nights. They may not yet know that Canada Geese and crows glean the field. Next autumn, when they have been well settled in their new home, they will hear those geese honk as they lift off from the pond and practice their great V formations in the sky. Next spring, the new neighbors will hear the Phoebes call when they return and see them light on posts and branches, tails bobbing before they dive to grab an insect for a meal. Perhaps as soon as late this summer, they will watch crimson sunsets from their front porch. The same porch I think they will eventually screen when they become more familiar with how bountiful our mosquitoes are around here. They may lie in their bed, just about to drift off to sleep and suddenly hear the distinct hoot of an owl or the rising howls of coyotes - either of which can send a chill through you. If they do as we once did, they will learn that a bird feeder left up too long into spring is an attractive snack for bears with dreadful and destructive table manners. And maybe this winter, they will walk all around their new land, looking at bushes and trees; following tracks and scat in icy sunshine and get to know and love their field.