It started badly and went downhill from there.
Strike one... I turned into the driveway and began picking my way among the potholes. It was exactly one year ago on a sunny day in early November. We had just closed the deal to purchase this small farm and I could barely contain my excitement.
As the farmhouse came into view, I saw a black pickup parked in front and my reverie was suddenly interrupted by a wave of anxiety. The land purchase that was a high point of my life also marked the low point for the previous owner. Having fallen on rough times, the farm was now being surrendered to the bank and in turn to me. I hadn't anticipated running into him as he removed the last of his belongings and I worried that the encounter might be unpleasant.
I parked the car and walked toward the house all the while rehearsing a pleasant greeting in my head. As I walked, my peripheral vision caught movement from an unexpected direction and I turned my head to see a man racing toward me on a four-wheeler. He roared up the rise and parked the vehicle directly in my path.
The man was clearly upset and I was pretty unnerved myself. After several minutes of heated and confused conversation, I managed to figure out that this was not the previous owner but instead was the next door neighbor. He was upset because rumors had been running rampant about the new owners of this farm. He had been led to believe that it had been sold to a hunt club that was going to let the house fall into ruin and fill his weekends with the constant sound of gunfire.
I did my best to assure him that the rumors were as far from truth as could be. I told him that we were an ordinary family with young children who hoped to turn the property back into a working farm. My explanations seemed to be slaking his intensity at least a little when the previous owner finally approached us from the house. With a curt goodbye, the neighbor fired up his vehicle and retreated back toward his own house.
I recovered from the confusion of the past few minutes and managed to deliver my rehearsed salutation. The previous owner turned out to be very friendly and actually grateful that we had come along to purchase the property when we did. His changing fortunes had gotten him into a bind with the bank that was only remedied when they managed to locate a buyer.
Strike two... It was a beautiful afternoon only a few days after our first unfortunate encounter. The entire family had come with me to begin working on our new property and everyone was assigned a task. The children had begged to be able to bring our young Labrador retriever along and seeing no harm in it, Janet and I agreed. Having nothing else to do with him, we tied him to one of the benches at the bonfire circle and I began mowing the overgrown yard nearby. We were all so excited to dig into our new project that we barely noticed that Finnegan was barking for attention the entire afternoon.
As the afternoon wore into evening, I continued the massive project of mowing the very large lawn. At one point our daughter Freya approached to inform me that the neighbor was back and had asked to speak to me. I found him standing near the property line and walked up to see what was on his mind.
He was again quite agitated. He informed me that he had spent a very frustrating afternoon attempting to deer hunt in the woods next to his house. He had sat there in his tree stand listening to the incessant barking of our dog and he was convinced that the noise had spooked all of the deer from the area. I apologized for our lack of consideration and he replied with a statement that I should be careful or somebody might just shoot that dog of ours.
Strike three... A few days after the dog incident, I noticed that
the same neighbor had placed "No Trespassing" signs on a series and trees and poles between our two houses. The problem was that the signs appeared to me to be quite far on my side of the line as if he believed that a section of our property belonged to him. I brought it to his attention and he told me that the previous owners of both properties had indicated that the property line ran where he had posted the signs.
Now to be fair, he had actually placed those signs prior to our first meeting when he feared that the farm was being turned into a hunt club. I decided that the best way to settle it was to hire a survey crew to mark exactly where the dividing line ran. A few weeks later the survey crew confirmed my assertion and my neighbor reluctantly adjusted to the idea that a couple of his acres were actually mine.
The last thing that I wanted was neighbor trouble. We were so excited about our new home and had looked forward to building good relationships with our neighbors. Unfortunately at each turn it seemed that we were just getting further into trouble.
Read the next post below "Gift Exchange" for the rest of the story...
Posted by John
@ 12:28 PM EST
(continued from "Three Strikes" above)
Through November and December of last year my family hauled load after load of our belongings to our new farm. It was with great relief that we finally completed the task and could retreat from the cold to spend our time cleaning and painting the interior. On the brief occasions that we did happen to be outdoors at the same time, my neighbor and I mostly ignored each other. Time passed and the cold wind blew.
Our brief hibernation ended as the children and I emerged in late January to begin tapping the maples and boiling the sap down into syrup. I spent most of February and March carrying sap from the woods and sitting out behind the house tending the evaporator fire late into the night. I can't recall who it was that broke the ice first, but soon my neighbor was taking a minor interest in our sugaring activities.
One evening in late February my cell phone rang as I was sitting by the fire. My neighbor was calling to make an offer to give me a large pile of firewood that he had accumulated and couldn't use. Before long he had loaded up the trailer of his four wheeler began delivering load after load to our back yard.
This generous and friendly gesture
changed everything! Before long, I was knocking on his door to deliver a bottle of our syrup and the reciprocal gift exchange continues to this day. I delivered a tin of cookies, he has returned the tin with strawberries inside. We have given him
watermelon and green beans. He has brought us cucumbers and zucchini.
As the summer months have faded into fall our once tense coexistence has steadily grown into a friendship. We regularly loan each other tools and equipment. He has joined in my coop construction effort when heavy lifting was required. He has offered helpful advice and I have done my best to design the coop to reduce the crowing noise in the early morning hours.
It is now common for us to call each other when something interesting happens. In the early spring we called him to come see the snapping turtles that were crawling from our pond to lay eggs in the garden. In late summer he invited Aidan and I to join him in the woods where he showed us salamander eggs that he had found beneath a log.
I can't tell you what a relief it is that this has sorted itself out for the better. He and I are now looking forward to our joint adventure coming up this early spring when we plan to expand our maple operation to include his woods as well as mine. I am amazed at how far a little habitual generosity can go to overcome even the worst relations and build the foundation of a lasting friendship. I heartily recommend that everyone get in the habit of bundling up a little something, taking the kids and delivering it with a smile to your neighbors!
Posted by John
@ 12:26 PM EST