While visiting the Midwest this month, we stopped by a friend’s house in the country. He has something special in his property, with several acres of land, a charming timber-lined home and a large pond, positioned many miles away from the nearest superstore, chain restaurant or strip mall. I love it, but I always have the feeling that I’m on vacation when I visit. I mean, I was on vacation this time, but even when I lived in the area, visiting always made me feel like I was at someone’s weekend home- not their residence. I’ve lived in and around cities for years, and I know that the surrounding woods, while charming, would begin to chafe after a while.
My friends were so enamored of the property they asked if it were for sale. I gather the primary reason for this was because it was so remote. “No neighbors,” Calle commented, as if this were a good thing. “It’s just so private,” Shel agreed.
And this got me thinking, about people who choose to live away from it all. Good fences make good neighbors, but what about people who think that it takes many acres to make good neighbors?
For a long time, I’ve been lucky to have found good neighbors. Everywhere I’ve lived; I’ve hung out with neighbors, been fed by neighbors and even vacationed with neighbors. And I have to say, I love the connection. That no matter where I go, I seem to find new friends (or maybe they find me). But what of these other people, who make a conscious decision to distance themselves from the city- and in so doing, distance themselves from everyone else?
Why would anyone want to do that?
Having spent an inordinate amount of time in the suburbs in my own youth, I craved city movement and sound for as long as I can remember. Soothed by late night brawls, quieted by curious tourists and calmed by a never-ending search for on-street parking, I’ve made my home in one city or another for years.
I asked my friends, so in awe of that country home, about their thoughts on neighbors. If it was growing up in a city that made them yearn for the country. Had they had enough of city noise to last them for a lifetime? Or was it something else?
Yes, my friends explained, they were romanced by the idea of a quiet, country life. But they also seemed less inclined to know their neighbors. To be forced to attend neighborhood gatherings or obligated to hold impromptu happy hours over easements. And maybe that stems from childhood, too. In my family, we organized the block parties. Had untold social gatherings for every special occasion (and some not so special occasions, too). I baby-sat the neighbors’ kids, swam in the neighbors’ pool, and busily baked cookies to welcome new friends to the neighborhood.
Yet somehow, I ended up in the city. I feel lucky for the friends I've found in the cities where I've lived. And my friends, though definitely charmed by the idea of a move to the country, seem to also enjoy all the benefits a city has to offer, including their neighbors. They frequently stop off at block parties and are often rushing out the door to help a neighbor in need. Though they still dream about a move to greener pastures, I think they'd miss their friends.
And maybe no matter how far we move away, there’s part of us that needs that country of neighbors- a country of friends.