It has been an adjustment getting used to living in a small city, with neighbors dwelling very close by. Most of the homes on our street, built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, have weathered, stockade fences between them. However, this house came equipped with a rusty chain link fence separating it from the properties which buffet it on either side. Aside from the lack of privacy, I find this fence to be tasteless and depressing. It’s the kind of thing you would see around a vacant lot, except that it’s lower. It practically screams “junk yard”. You would almost expect a couple of Rottweilers to be hurling themselves at it with bared teeth.
On the left side of us lives a lovely, recently retired school teacher who is also an avid gardener. In addition to an abundance of perennials in her yard, she also has a Koi pond and bird baths. She has a sweet little back deck and a tidy lawn. When I am out working in my own garden, I love to peek through the trees which, thankfully, mostly obscure the chain link fence between us, to enjoy a glimpse of her world.
The house on the right side of us is split into two units and is owned by an absentee landlord. There has been a pretty steady stream of tenants living there who have been real losers. It appears the people who rent the upstairs unit tend to be systematically evicted after they cause problems or don’t pay their rent. We have had our share of dealers, crack-heads and general bone-heads, including some people who moved in stating they were a family unit of three, only to find out they were really a couple of unemployed women with six teenagers and a Pit Bull that they refused to pick up after, letting it crap in everyone’s front yard. When politely asked to please tidy up after their pet, they actually outright refused and gave us “the finger”. The parents, not the kids! Nice, yes? It is clear this landlord is not screening very diligently and even more clear that he really doesn’t care how his neighbors feel about it.
The downstairs unit has been occupied by the same couple rather steadily. We rarely catch a glimpse of the woman, but the husband is a friendly man who regularly walks over or engages in conversation over the fence. The problem is that the adult children of the wife tend to regularly drop off their own young children to be watched…..or not watched. The back yard, which we have a full view of through the chain fence, has essentially become an unsupervised playground for anywhere from three to seven cousins and grandchildren at any one time, complete with trampoline, kiddy pool, day-glo pink plastic slides and toys, canopies, tarps and rusted chairs. Just about every weekend and throughout the summer starting at roughly 7:45 in the morning (yes, that early), the kids will be out there emitting high-pitched shrieks as they ride their bikes around, splash in the kiddie pool, leap up and down on the enclosed trampoline or bounce a basketball over and over…….and over….and over…… on the cement patio. This goes on all. day. long. During the school year they are also out there most afternoons. These are actually nice kids. Often I have encouraged them to pick the cherry tomatoes or snap peas I have planted along the fence, show them how to crush the leaves to experience the aroma of mint, cilantro and lemon thyme, or helped them collect those roly-poly pill bugs from the dirt. However……it’s all the time. And then, there is that shrieking. They don’t even actually even live there. Having already done this scenario in our lives, we really didn’t plan on signing up for another tour.
In addition, the adult children of this family, who do not live there but show up with their kids and their laundry regularly, pick up where the kids leave off, tending to hang out in the back yard, where there seems to always be a large party or barbecue going on. They are also friendly enough, but when I am outside working in the area of my garden along this chain fence between us, which happens to be the sunniest spot on our property, there are often people standing on the other side of the chain link smoking cigarettes literally a few feet from my head. There I am, weeding around my basil plants and there will be a couple of women standing around with baby strollers, smoking and flicking their ashes, while we all politely try to ignore each other.
From their downstairs side window facing our house, there pours an ongoing cloud of cigarette smoke generated by the chain-smoking fifty-something grandmother who rarely emerges outside as she is in need of a triple by-pass. It is disconcerting and it really disturbs my serenity to be out in my own yard and unable to enjoy it. It’s often so noisy that it disturbs the neighbor on the other side of our house. In addition, their little dog, who is actually very sweet, tends to pee through the fence onto my plants. I have been laying plywood against the fence where I grow vegetables to protect them. Lastly, when I look out the window over the kitchen counter, I have a nice view of their garbage pails.
The Significant Other and I have been discussing putting up a stockade fence between us and the tenant house for the last few years. While it would not stop the noise, it might buffer it, and it would also afford some privacy. With so many other things that need to be repaired in this old house, the time and expense of doing a fence was something that sat on the back burner. But as this spring approached and the thought of going through another invasive summer loomed ahead, I really started to amp up the requests and it finally happened this past weekend. It was not without sacrifice, however.
Right along the line where the fence needed to be placed sits a crab apple tree. I was under the impression that somehow the fence-line could be adjusted to detour around the tree. Due to the nature of the property line and the space available to put up the fence, this was not going to be possible. This tree has just completed a spectacular show of fragrant flowers before dropping its petals (see Just Married). However, the rest of the year it’s a nuisance. It bombs both yards with inedible garbage that makes a mess and attracts hornets. Even with that, realizing the tree was going to have to come down in order to put up the fence was somewhat upsetting.
The teacher neighbor from the left side came over to watch as the Significant Other got the chain saw going. Although she was possibly even more excited than I was for the privacy and peace we will be gaining, we were both disturbed about the loss of this ornamental tree. Turning my back, I heard it but could not watch it happen. We actually had tears in our eyes as he took it down. When it was over, I helped load the branches into the dump truck, stopping to smell the sweet fragrance of some of the remaining blossoms. Then I went inside, lit some Tibetan incense and quietly mourned this tree for a little while before returning back to the garden and to help with the rest of the fence.
The downstairs neighbor husband watched us but didn’t say much. I don’t think he understood the problem and I sensed he was a bit insulted. He looked a little bit upset as the fence was going up. You would think he would be as welcoming of the privacy as we are, but I got the feeling he wasn’t. I tried using that old adage that fences make good neighbors. The kids were disappointed and wanted to know why we were doing it. I felt a little guilty……but not too guilty.
The fence on the right side is up. It is neat and private. However, this six-foot high solid barrier now blocks the sunlight where the tomatoes and basil have been planted and thrived every year. Short of planting these things in pots, there really isn’t any other place to put them, which is a loss. Although it is sad, in balance it is apparent that the sacrifice of that tree was worth it. I planted a small Japanese maple sapling in the place where the crabapple tree once stood. Overall, our place looks so much more inviting. I would bet that putting in this fence has probably increased the value of the house.