I’ve been blessed with generous, helpful neighbors, but I wouldn’t blame them a bit if they closed their curtains and hid behind their sofas whenever they saw me coming.
Accustomed to living on a small, easily maintained suburban property, I wasn’t exactly equipped to handle four acres and a pond when my family and I moved from Long Island to a rural neighborhood in Red Hook 13 years ago. I discovered that I needed a riding mower and a towable spreader, a chainsaw, an axe, a gas-powered weed-whacker, a water softener system, a generator, and too many tools to list here. I’m not a Paul Bunyan, nor am I mechanically inclined; whenever I’ve been daunted by the demands of keeping nature at bay and our house upright, I’ve gone to my neighbors for advice and help.
Bruce-across-the-street rescued us during a lengthy power outage by showing me how to hook up our new generator. He later solved the mystery of why it wouldn’t power our well pump (I hadn’t flipped the correct switch). He loaned me his log-splitter before I passed out while trying to cut firewood; the small chainsaw I’d bought proved better suited for whittling than carving up mighty oaks. He’s referred me to a landscape expert, a stone mason, a roofer, and a handyman.
Mike-around-the-corner graciously jeopardized his back when I requested his help in moving an unplanted spruce with a hideously heavy root ball. His rototiller saved me from having to spend the rest of my life digging up a big patch of ground with a shovel in order to create our vegetable garden.
George-who-used-to-live-next-to-Bruce donated his snowblower when my family’s shovels were overwhelmed by the white stuff. On several occasions, he lent me his big green John Deere tractor mower when my little red Ace had been rendered useless by one of the Valley’s championship-caliber rocks, which frequently sprout from our lawn and wreak havoc on cutting blades. I hit these fiendish things with alarming regularity, landing my mower in the repair shop for weeks while the grass grows toward the second-story windows.
Our calamities have not escaped notice.
When yet another rock rose to smite my mower, I asked if I could borrow the John Deere again. I was turned down with a polite explanation that I might damage it and incur a hefty repair bill. I understood and sheepishly slunk home.
After fighting off the temptation to borrow some sheep from the nearby farm to graze on our lawn until my mower was fixed, I decided to develop some old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity. The next time a rock attacked, I grabbed a hacksaw and freed the jammed blade by cutting a hunk out of the dented housing. “That is how it’s done!” I proudly proclaimed to my son, who’d been driving the mower that day.
Alas, my recent attempt to fix my spreader with duct tape and wire failed miserably. Nevertheless, I’m determined to put the fertilizer down on my own — even though new neighbors just moved into George’s old house.
I’ll try not to darken their doorway — unless it’s just to say hello.