Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hi, Neighbor!

I’ve always been somewhat of a loner. I have learned to do things alone that others might find daunting, or at least too much like work, even with help. I really enjoy being self-sufficient, and have always had difficulty asking for help. It has been costly sometimes, but usually rewarding in the end.

A couple of months ago a young man stopped me on the road to our place. He introduced himself as my new neighbor, having bought the long-vacant house and acreage less than a quarter of a mile past us. It wasn’t a complete surprise. In a county this small no change goes unnoticed for more than a few days, often only for a few seconds (but that’s another essay).

Have I made it clear previously that we live on a mountainside far from what many people would call the necessities of life: malls, movies, crowds and such? Well we do. And for years our place has been one of two that have been occupied full-time on our two-mile dead-end unpaved road. And we’ve enjoyed that distinction. It isn’t really hard today, with vehicles that can negotiate most roads even in snow (or you can just stay home and wait for it to clear if you are retired). You shop ahead when you "go to town," and you make sure your tanks are full, your alternate power systems are ready to work, and you don’t have any place you just have to be.

We are mostly self-sufficient. We grow some of our own food, we heat with wood that comes from our own wood lot or that we trade for. We have a stand-by generator to keep the lights on and the freezers (three of them) freezing. We have an old truck with a snow plow on it. We have neighbors "downtown" (next to the general store/post office just a mile away) with tractors big enough to plow us out when the snow is more than our truck can handle, and we have a pond and a river where we can draw water should the well fail or the pump die or the genney run out of fuel.

Power lines in the country are subject to tree limbs and rock falls and ice more than any city dweller can imagine. When that happens (as it did for about eight hours last week), as soon as the generator kicks in I call the power company to let them know we’re out. Sometimes the cause is just up the road, but more often it is in another state (so they say). Either way, if I get a human responder (during regular business hours only), the first question is "Do your neighbors have power?" The answer is, "Our nearest neighbors are a mile in any direction." That doesn’t help much, but at least it gets a response.

Well, no longer are we so isolated. A place about a quarter of a mile past us (and around two bends in the road and two outcrops in the ridge) that had been empty for several years was recently bought by the young couple with little kids, a dog, some goats and a spirit of neighborliness. That last part is wonderful. Last week we were able to help them with a spare generator, some oil for lamps, and a telephone that works even if the power is off. Earlier in the month the young man came up to help me cut firewood, and later that same week, brought his church youth group up to help. Boys and girls, men and women gathered for an hour to cut and split and stack a huge pile of firewood to help us get to the end of the heating season. After an earlier snow I had plowed my new neighbor’s driveway and helped the young man get a message to his wife before their telephone was installed. (Have I mentioned before that cell phones don’t work anywhere in a ten-mile radius of our homeplace?) Since they moved in a couple of months ago, we’ve done several things for each other, and it feels so normal, so neighborly. As we grow older, it’s a comfort to know we have someone we can call on, and who can call on us. It’s what you learn to do in the country.

Thanks, neighbor!

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