Grit Blogs > The Peep Show

Being Neighborly

Jen UbelakerWe've had an incredibly light winter in the Pacific Northwest and it's allowed us the opportunity to work on our property a lot more than we normally would. Without the usual snow and ice we are missing any excuse to not work on our projects, so we're spending a lot more time outside and since we live in town, “outside” means in full view of the neighbors.

We are really lucky that we ended up with fantastic neighbors. They are lucky that we moved in next door to provide them with limitless entertainment. A few weekends ago we were catching up over the fence while I was rebuilding a woodpile and Hubby was digging a wildflower berm in the alley for the bees. We were explaining the day's work to our neighbor and told him how we hoped everything would work out and he grinned, telling us, “If it doesn't work out, it won't be for lack of effort, that's for sure.”

When I first started cordoning off sections of the yard for garden space, the neighbors on both sides showed a lot of interest. The previous owners of the house let the backyard grow into a waist-high jumble of weeds. Our neighbor “J” even bought a cherry tomato for her yard so we could “farm” together. It was a beautiful day in early summer when we shared baby tomatoes over the fence and swapped neighborhood gossip. It was the first time our new place really felt like a home.

Since then, I've also heard talking in the backyard and peeked out to see her weeding her side of the fence and carrying on a conversation with one of our chickens through the chain-link. They have a bond that I don't question.

The neighbor on the other side belongs to a food co-op and when she gets her delivery she takes all of the wilted/dinged vegetables they are throwing away and brings them home for the chickens. Every other week a mystery box of chicken yummy winds up on my porch, and we thank her with eggs.

My hubby and our neighbor “D” talk 'man stuffs' a lot and swap tools and stories. When our ancient lawnmower finally gave up the ghost I talked Hubby into purchasing a reel mower. It was another noteworthy neighborhood event. Hubby has fallen in love with the mower because he can mow as early as he wants on a morning without disturbing anyone, and he can wear headphones and listen to music as he does it. “D” laughs and tells him our yard looks as pretty as theirs with a power mower and were we trying to put him in an early grave? Now his wife would want one too.

When Hubby built a rainwater cachement system out of a garbage can and a downspout, eyebrows were raised until I watered in hops, peas, onions, new paving stones and grass seed with the 30 gallons of water harvested from the roof during the last rainstorm. I was able to start planting weeks before the irrigation was turned on.

But, through all of it, the only thing I was ever really worried about was the chickens. They can be noisy, smelly, and fly over fences uninvited. When we got our girls, we talked with the neighbors on both sides and were completely honest. We'd never raised chickens in the city before and goodwill trumped fresh eggs. If for any reason the birds got on anyone's nerves we were prepared to move them from the hen house to the dinner plate with no questions asked. I planned ahead with extra fly-traps and a noise-proofed hen house, but we do still have to live here. We'd do what we could to make it low-impact on our neighbors.

So, we got our chicks and they fit into the neighborhood really well. Fairly quiet, minimal prison breaks, all's quiet on the home front.

Anyone who's had hens knows that occasionally you get one or two that get poop stuck around their vent. Icky, but it happens. We have one of those, and I decided to give her a bath and trim her feathers. That's my story. Only trouble being that my chicken-whisperer neighbor saw me. The chicken bath went off without a hitch. She actually liked the warm water and even the hairdryer warming her belly (it's still cold out, give me a break) but later that evening I was stopped outside by the chicken-whisperer's husband and he asked me, “Just what was going on here today?”

Turns out his wife was having her morning coffee and saw me go into the yard in my apron and muck boots, grab a chicken, take it into the house and it didn't come back out. She waited, and when she couldn't stand it any longer she called her husband at work asking him if he thought I was cooking one of those dear little chickens. I got a good laugh out of it and told him to tell his wife that the chicken was just having a “spa day.” You can tell by her photo, she needed it.

Camilla