I check my rock garden plantings and find them still alive after five days. If I squint hard I can even imagine the little sedums and Alyssiums are actually growing. Definitely none are gasping their last. It’s a miracle!
Life in these fecund boonies might make a gardener of my black-thumbed self yet.
Even my one dry, brown, bedraggled clearance-sale tomato plant has exploded into a giant green wonder, filled with new blooms and one actual fruit (after deer or some other critter tiptoed through in the night and stole all the original ones).
I’ve lopped stray branches from skinny trees and thick shrubs, raked up post-logger debris, smoothed down roughed-up gravel, wantonly slaughtered another patch of grass, wiped my brow and poured myself an iced tea. Now I’m sitting on the screen porch, looking upon a sunny spot in the yard that a few days ago was both dank and dangerous thanks to an unmoored tree.
Small-town life. It’s good.
A nosy encounter on the street
The other day I ran into an around-the-corner neighbor outside the post office. We got to talking about the new paint job on her house. I volunteered that cool changes were also happening at the hermitage. Trees down! Walls up!
Then we became aware that a third person had planted herself firmly near us. I looked up. It was someone I know slightly — and don’t want to know any better than I already do.
“Oh, that sounds interesting!” the interloper chirped. “Where do you live?”
I’m not likely to reply something like “Mind your own effing business, biotch!” in front of my nice, 86-year-old churchgoing neighbor. And wouldn’t in any case because I’m not that sort of person. But I do not want this nosy, lonely, filterless woman turning up at my house.
So I wave in the general direction of home and mutter something vague, hoping she won’t know what I’m talking about. But — this being a small town — she knows exactly. She continues on about what a cool place my house must be, hint, hint, hint. I quickly render my precious cottage ordinary while slowly backing toward my car: “Oh, no. It’s nothing special. Nothing you’d go out of your way to see. The only big thing is that it used to be a shack and now it’s not. No big deal. Really.” Nothing to see here; move along.
Small towns have their drawbacks.
Everybody knows everybody
The logger taking out my dead trees pointed to Neighbor J.’s house and asked, “Do you know those people? Somebody told me they wanted some trees cut.”
That was news to me. But the next time I drove toward town, I encountered J and we did that middle-of-the-street, roll-down-the-car-windows thing.
She popped her eyes at the idea of some mysterious “somebody” conveying tree-related messages to passing loggers. I shrugged my ignorance; I’m just the messenger here, M’am. But yes, she did have trees to be taken down. When she heard his price (about 1/3 of any tree service), she said she’d talk with him.
She added, “He looks familiar? Who is he?”
I gave his name. She shook her head.
“He says one of his family members sold you your house.”
Oh. Yeah. Small town.
Newbie in the neighborhood
Alas, we have a new man on the street. Moved in with a neighbor less than two weeks ago. He’s been going up and down the road multiple times daily as he completes the move-in, and toward the end of the rock-setting project, The Wandering Monk, the young minion, and I found ourselves mocking the guy, all of us spontaneously homing in on the same expressions and mannerisms.
This, obviously, was not nice of us. Maybe it’s an example of the bad aspects of small towns — insularity and gossip. Could be.
But the reality is more complicated. We already knew this man, months before he moved onto our street. We’ve socialized with him. We all love and feel protective toward the woman he’s latched onto. We try to balance our protectiveness with live-and-let-live, but the new guy, it turns out, raises everyone’s hackles.
He’s narcissistic, manipulative, glib, childish, and irresponsible. Now, little encounters with the rock crew as the guy drove up and down on his errands have convinced the three of us that he’s not only a negative character — but also a fool.
Most of the details are petty and I’ll leave them be. I’ll just note that a person who’d stop in the middle of the road to chitty-chat with a man who has just picked up a 70-pound boulder and is trying to move it across said road has his head so far up his butt that he could gaze out through his own belly button.
Was our mockery of this dude charitable? Nope. But it means we’ve compared notes and discovered we all had the same red flags go up for the same reasons. Now we’re watchful — and not only for the sake of our friend, but for our street in a time when neighbors might need neighbors.
The police beat
A cop rolled along our road while The Monk and I were shoveling dirt over the rock-garden-to-be. A cop up here is unusual. He opened the window of his cruiser and said something to the effect of, “Nice job.”
I replied that it really was a nice job, a pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon (which it was, surprisingly). “And you can join us! I have an extra shovel.” After a second of not knowing quite how to answer he grinned, said his boss wouldn’t like him getting dirty, and rolled away.
The Monk — no fan of cops — said he’d talked with that cop a few times. “Nice guy.”
The local weekly prints “police beat” notices and I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds them the best part of what passes for news hereabouts.
The reports begin with the latest jail bookings. Oh, look! There’s a son of one of the area’s biggest (and nicest) entrepreneurs getting busted. Oh, and here’s yet another bust for a member of that large family of founding delinquents. A friend’s son booked for them upteenth time? Whatever is he accused of now? About 1/3 of the bookings seem to be women*, so it’s very much an equal-opportunity arrest list.
But the most outstanding features of “police beat” are the crazy people and the bizarrely zen language of the “911 calls” section.
For years, there were regularly two calls a week from a woman in a certain part of town who swore that her children had locked her up and were starving her to death. One day the woman must have hit the button for Furrydoc’s office instead of 911, and my kind friend and her staff scrambled to bag up emergency groceries before someone reminded them who their caller was. Eventually the starving lady quit calling and her fate remains a mystery (though probably not a very deep one; either the assisted living home or death).
Now there are more crazy people, but not so benign. Threats to kill, People taking sledgehammers to doors. Suicidal freakouts. Stalking. Lots of strange stuff from meth heads and opiate** abusers. I miss the harmless man who used to report getting messages from his kitchen cabinets.
But the best reason for reading the police notices is to savor — and attempt to interpret — the language of the reports. I can’t possibly manage to imitate the tone of the things, so here are a few, straight from the paper with only a few details changed to protect the innocent, the guilty, and the weird. In each case, these are the complete printed reports. That’s all she wrote.
Cold burglary. Clothes, dishes, private paperwork missing. Reporting party stated she thought it was all in her mind, but now it might not be.
Agency assist. Subject left six minutes ago wearing a hospital gown.
Civil dispute. Three months before reporting party was out mowing lawn and wife is on oxygen. Wife looks out window and sees a subject with child on riding lawn mower. Male kept going. That evening there was a knock on the door, it is subject’s daughter …
Animal problem. Cows are out in field, something needs to be done.
Mental subject. Subject is threatening to “starts with a k ends with an l” reporting party. Reporting party advised female doesn’t like her, answered every question with “I don’t know.”
Mystery novels in miniature.
I go out in the sunshine and enjoy the peace. A lone dog barks a few times then goes quiet. The chain sawing is done for today. The nice family with the macho, roaring, diesel crew-cab truck is away on vacation. I may rouse myself later to make swooshy raking noises to clean up the last minor rubble left by the loggers (who otherwise cleaned up everything), but for the moment all is still, fragrant, green, blue, and peaceful.
I’ve been awake since 2:00 a.m. and it’s late afternoon as I write this (days before posting). I was also outside at 3:00 this morning, drinking my first cup of tea and enjoying the silver of a full moon reflecting from white-trunked alder trees.
I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, much of it worrisome. But another virtue here is blessed surcease. Pure contentment. And that without chemical enhancement, costly spa treatments, long vacations, mindless hours streaming video, fast cars, or designer-shopping binges. Those moments of field-and-forest induced happiness may be as brief as any others in life. But they’re all-natural, pure organic, healthily outdoorsy, wholesome and available nearly every day.
* Splitting the difference for neutral names like Kelly, Dover, or Kipp.
** I’m not going with the trendy “opiod” until some genius tells me how that’s more chemically correct.