Privacy Hedge

One of the many benefits of living in a neighborhood is getting to meet and know your neighbors. I was fortunate this week to run into our neighbor who lives directly next door. She is a lovely lady perhaps in her 70’s or 80’s whose son also lives just three houses down from her. He comes by and helps her out from time to time with the household chores including yard work.

Yard work was what brought us together this particular afternoon. The sun was out and the weather good for gardening; not too cold, nor too hot. It was mid October the perfect time to get the yard ready for winter. My neighbor, whom I’ll call Mary, came right over for a nice little chat when she saw me come around the corner into the side yard between our homes. I was dressed in my gardening attire: grubby pants, long sleeve shirt, gloves on, clippers in hand. She was sitting at her breakfast table, sipping on something, when our eyes met. Mary stood up, made a motion with her hands that she was coming out to greet me.

We stood there on the lawn, and got to know one another. Mary has lived in her home for over 50 years. She knew the original owners of the home I’m living in, AND knew about what was planted where and why. This information I found helpful, because there were a few odd looking bushes that I honestly couldn’t identify. In addition to her extensive memory regarding the plants in my yard, she also had a strong opinion about the person who planted them, the former owner whom I will call Nancy.

Mary gave me the five cent tour of my yard:

“These are volunteers of some ugly bush Nancy planted. Those ugly things there, and there. They just won’t die. You’ll be OK to just pull ‘em out. Pull ‘em up good or they’ll come back!”

“Now these are nice. I have of those in my yard as well. That’s a good bush.”

“The trees. Do you see those two large trees along the fence there? Well as you can see they are so high, never been trimmed, they reach into the power line. MY power line. One year there was a wind storm and a power line fell. The firemen said they couldn’t figure out HOW my house DID NOT burn to the ground! But the trees have never been trimmed regardless.”

50 years of pent-up plant aggression was unfolding before me! The corners of my mouth curled a bit thinking of Mary and Nancy talking to each other both hating each other’s yard, perhaps secretly, or perhaps not so secretly. Thinking I was doing Mary a favor I continued to walk with her through my yard just to see what she would say next. “Let it all out Mary” I thought to myself, “You’ve kept that in for fifty years! Get it out! I don’t know Nancy so you’re in a safe place.”


Then we came around to the enormous evergreen that consumes a fourth of my back yard. At one time perhaps it was an accent shrub that helped balance the yard between the rhododendrons to the left and the shed on the right. It is the oldest and largest shrub I have ever seen. It is hard to identify in its colossal form, perhaps a juniper, which typically grow 6 feet max. This bush however is over 15 feet high and over twenty feet in diameter. The trunk is 4 feet wide with many arms branching off of it, making a nice fort for my nephews. You get the sense that it’s the dinosaur of shrubs when next to it. As if staring into the back side you may find a portal through time.

“So Mary, what’s up with this massive evergreen here? This house was built over 80 years ago- seems like this bush could have been the first thing they planted.”

“Oh when Nancy and her sisters lived here, they wanted that shrub. Said it gave them privacy. Needs to be cut down if you ask me.”

I WAS asking and I agreed. A tree doctor needs to get in there. The branches towards the bottom are so heavy they are growing into the ground and rotting!

She shook her head, “Whatever made them think that ONE shrub could give them privacy? And from what? There’s nothing back here.”

The large evergreen grew to be wider than the shed, which doubles as a one-car garage, it stood in front of. When looking out the back porch window, the shed cannot be seen due to this mutant sized evergreen. But her comment got me thinking.

The Walls Between Us
We all value our privacy, and need buffers physical or not between relationships. When we go to the bank, we do business behind a counter. At work we may have a desk or a table between us and our co-workers or customers. In a taxi cab Plexiglas separates the two parties of driver and passenger. We need buffers, hedges when we interact with others. It seems to be a part of our society that is a comfort. If there are no buffers during a transaction, just a hand shake for example, we may feel like we participated in something unofficial or illegal.

Mary couldn’t see the benefit of the shrub, but Nancy and her sisters could. The overgrown mammoth stood guard and kept them safer in a world of unknown dangers. And besides… whose yard was it anyways?

A Friendly Lot

Princess following me on my walk

In my new neighborhood, just up the hill is an empty lot. I discovered it one weekend while taking my cat for a walk. We have foxes in the area and she won’t go far from the home unless someone walks with her. It’s a mutual benefit, she gets to explore and I get some exercise.

The main access road winds its way up a ridge just a few miles outside of town. All of the homes are built off that road with long individual driveways and dense woods keeping any passerby, weather on foot or in car, from seeing the house. It’s more like walking through a thick forest, than a neighborhood, with the only exception being the trail is a two lane gravel road. On this street people want to be hidden from the world, tucked away in their own little paradise, behind a curtain of evergreens. Unlike the suburban neighborhood I had just moved from, where every house is out in the open for all to see, but, I suppose that’s the idea.

About a quarter mile into my walk I pass by four large gates, evenly spaced apart, guarding driveways leading to a neighbor I’ll probably never see, unless they too are walking on the gravel road. The fifth driveway, however, was completely different. Standing out like a sore thumb is an entrance to this abandon lot. No gate or house numbers, no drift wood sign with a family’s last name to mark it, just some long grass and wildflowers.

Princess checking out the neighborhood

When I first discovered the lot, I was hesitant to trespass on it. Being new to the “neighborhood” I didn’t want to start trouble. From the gravel road I could see there was a clearing at the top of it, and thought for sure there had to be a view that was worth the risk. After a quick look for a No Trespassing sign or perhaps security cameras, or another human being, I decided the cat HAD to take a quick look and I couldn’t let her go alone.

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My dream home on the dream lot.

This lot is friendly and open; it almost begs to have visitors! Why is there no house here? I learned from a neighbor the history of it: the owners will never build a house on it because like many areas on the island, it has no water. After three attempts digging for a well they gave up and are left with a very expensive piece of picnic ground. It’s unfortunate for them, but fortunate for suburbanites who walk their cats, namely ME.

There is something about this piece of land that holds my imagination. Perhaps it’s the same feeling that the owners received, who ever they are, when they first stood on it. The sunlight reacts to the trees in a dramatic way here. Even the grass and the little wild flowers carpeting the ground just seem to sing in the rays. The land has a natural driveway bending slightly to the left, nice and level branching off the main road. Walking down the driveway, towards the middle of the lot you notice a generous round lump of what I call “Island Rock” protruding from the earth like a gigantic beauty mark. This is the obvious location for the house. From the top of the mound of rock, turning towards the west, you get a wonderful view of the island, the straight and the Olympic Mountains. The land takes a downward slop forward like a ski jump leveling out into a flat grassy field. Madronas lace the outside edges with there signature orange bark.

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Lots of room for guests!

I can see a beautiful modern home sitting on the rock, with large windows to frame the trees and mountains. Specters of people fill the empty space, living in the home I build here in my imagination. Family gathering together in the dinning room, a couple sitting out on the deck, kids running around exploring the little groves made perfect for gnomes.

The cat rubs up against my leg and sits next to me, bringing me back to our world, our world, standing alone on someone else’s land. With a heavy sign I take in the mountain range across the water. Now whenever I feel restless and need to stretch my legs, I travel up my road to the friendly lot that I’m sure awaits my visit.

The Olympic Mountains

 

NEIGHBORS

Written: December 2009

This short story is based on a dream I had.

Seattle, Washington

It was mid afternoon and Heather should have been at work. Getting a mid day list of items to finish for her boss to be ready for tomorrow was the most she accomplished. She worked at an archives agency and spent most the day filing, organizing and sitting at a computer. Three times a week she went to the gym during her lunch break. Once in a while she would go for a jog after work around her Seattle neighborhood. Dogs would bark, crows would crow and the seagulls would squawk. It was very relaxing a beautiful. She loved to jog until she came around and saw her home. Her home was recently famous. A picture of her house had been taken from that very street corner by a reporter nine months ago, and plastered all over the papers. Her husband had lived here. And the arrest took place just on the sidewalk in front of the home. “How could he of done that?” she thought. She discovered after moving here with him that she was his 8th wife. That he wasn’t who he said he was. He was a liar. She didn’t know him after two years of marriage- she didn’t know him at all. She was living a lie, a player in play, and he was the director. Her identity was kept secrete but most people recognized her name. “Hey are you that lady…?” NO! I mean, not me. Just a strange coincidence. But that poor woman right?” “Oh ya – If that was me I would of beat the man to death I’m telling you! Eight wives!? I mean what the hell right?” *sigh*
And so it was. His identify was false, and now she told everyone that she was not the person whom she really was. Everything was upside down and backwards. But at least she got to keep the house. It was a fun little house nestled amongst the trees with a short little path to the front door. It used to make her feel happy to pull up in front of it. But lately it was just this strange BLANK. No feelings. No emotion. She stopped going to the bars with friends from work. Sometimes she wouldn’t go to the gym at all. The run was the best thing, and attending the local theater.
At least you know when you go to a play that you are entering a reality that is based on people pretending to be other people. It says so right on the ticket: “These people will be pretending to be these people tonight. Pretend costumes by this person and the pretend world was created by those people. Hope you enjoy it! Best play of the year!” So with eyes wide open she would enter the small theater and hope that the broken down walls and ceiling would somehow keep her in check. That the acting no matter how well it was that night would not transport her completely into another reality, but with a simple glance up at the water stained tile, she could be brought back to reality and breath a sigh of relief. Ahhh this is just a show and I’m really not in Kansas.
This is the condition that we find our Heather. Staying close to the ground, trying to find her feet again. Appreciating the support of friends and the city provided therapist, but somehow knowing that Heather will have to fix Heather. …Am I really broken? Did he break me? Perhaps I’m just in shock and all these feelings will go away soon. Melting like a lemon drop in your mouth. “It’s important to know that he was wrong. That it wasn’t my fault.” She would think to herself. And then just keep on jogging.

Jogging around the corner, and this time instead of looking at her home like a newspaper photographer, her eye was drawn to the street corner. She noticed a man on the corner… starring at her. He had that look like he wanted to ask her something. “Just keep jogging Heather. He’s not there”
“Excuse me…’”
Jogging in place “Yes?” She looked at him and it was as if for a brief moment he was lighting up the whole block. Shake it off girl. He just wants to ask directions.
“Yes what?”
“Hi. I’m new here and got lost. How do I get back to Magnolia?”
“Magnolia?! Magnolia. Well just turn left at any of these streets.”
“Any Street?”
“Yes. It’s the main street that runs parallel with the water. You know THAT water. (Using her head in a jerk to point to Puget Sound) Magnolia is the main drive on the water.”
“Oh yes. I was just a bit direction turned. So I could turn left here…”
“Yep- on Dravus.”
“Dravus. Ok. Thanks.”

“So this was the first time you met him?”
Her therapists sat there trying to show no emotion, but Heather could tell she was concerned.
“Yes, it was fall; lots of leaves on the ground. So perhaps October?”
“What was your first impression?”
She thought about that moment. How his faced shined in the light. How alive and happy he looked. How incredibly inviting of a man he was. Dressed nicely, clean, friendly; and just for a second her heart jumped.
“Well he was like just a guy on the street. Perhaps a guest staying with a neighbor somewhere… that got lost. or something.”
“Tell me about the second time you met.”
“I was downtown at the public library getting some micro files for a client. And I noticed him. Then I was at the market and we met at the same booth. Then I saw him next at a fund raiser for the theater.”
“Had you seen him before?”
“No. It was like he had just moved to the neighborhood. We talked that night. And he told me, “I’ve just moved here and can’t help how I keep bumping into you. What’s your name?”
“Was that the night you first started to have an affair with him?”
“An affair? I’m not…really married remember.”
“Oh I’m sorry Heather, I mean did your physical relationship start that evening? I’m just trying to establish a time line.”
Time line? Are you working with the police? Because I thought we had a confidentiality agreement. What are you trying to pull?
She looked to the ceiling to take her out of this horrible play.
“No worries Heather. I’m just trying to figure out what happened. I’m a little confused. We’ve been working for months to help you establish safe boundaries with others, and yet this man who you’ve only met twice…”
“Four times…”
“Ok, Four times just seems to walk into your life and completely seduce you. Much like you husband.”
“He was never my husband.”
“Right. Yes. I’m sorry. It’s just I thought we were making progress here. This stranger could have hurt you. And honestly I’m not sure WHAT he did to you. As soon as he’s found, perhaps we’ll get more information from him.”
“You’ll never find him.”

The therapists looked at Heather, over her glasses. Wondering how such a gullible little girl of a woman has ever made it this far. Again hiding her true feelings, the therapist’s started to concentrate… Heather is a very pretty woman- with or without make-up. She’s a trophy wife, no brains, just a body to hang on someone’s elbow. And yet a bit of a square. How can I help someone who isn’t even a real person? Someone who is this shallow?
“Why won’t the police find him Heather?”
“Because he’s gone home.”
“You said he lived in your neighborhood.”
“Well… I really don’t know where he’s from. Mt Olympus maybe?”
“Mt Olympus? You mean like the Olympic Mountains? Like in Port Angeles? Or are you talking Greece?”

Heather looked out the office window, and saw the Olympic mountain range in all its glory. Snow covered and the sun shinning on it. She was done. This woman would never understand what she went through; this was a waste of time. Somehow she knew she didn’t need her anymore. That Dravus cured her of her broken heart and healed her mind of anxiety over meeting new people. He helped her. But what did she do for him? …A smile crawled up her face and her feet twitched a bit.
“Thank you very much for your time. I’ve been very grateful for your help. But I think we’re done here.”
“Wha..? Heather wait we’ve just scratched the surface. You still need much more therapy.”
“Sorry, I don’t think so. I’m done with the pills, sleepless nights. You did help me to figure things out. And I’m ok now. Really.”
“Well the mandatory visits by the state ended 2 months ago. Of course you can leave at any time. I can’t force you to come here. But Heather, you need to look out for yourself and protect your inner space. Remember not just anyone can come in there, right. Call me anytime if you need to talk alright.”
“Ok”
“Protect yourself”
“Alright”
“Please- oh the police are meeting with you on Thursday. Would you like for me to come with you?”
“Ummm… sure. That would be fine. Perhaps we could have lunch afterwards? Don’t worry, I wont let you into my space.” –she laughs. “I’ll see you Thursday then.
Yes Thursday.”
Heather leaves. The therapist walks over to her desk and pushes a button.
“Stacey?”
“Yes?”
“Please open my schedule for Thursday morning. And get Josh from channel 5 on the phone please.”
“Yes.”
She sits down in her chair, swings around to her view of the mountains and scratches her head.
…How could one man, change a woman THAT much?

***