Sometimes Community is Just Across the Fence

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about Blue Zones, the handful of places on Earth where people tend to live the longest. Westernization is changing the shape of some of these zones (McDonald’s is now thriving in Okinawa, Japan) but the lessons of longevity tend to remain the same – eat well, move your body, find purpose in your life, and surround yourself with community.

Angie and I have been eating a mostly plant-based diet for a few years now. We try to be active, though I know there’s certainly room for improvement in that area. Purpose in life is something I continually struggle with. Though I am happy in most respects, I do not think this is where or what my life is supposed to be, especially with regard to work and family. So that leaves community…something we have yet to find in the 5 years that we’ve lived in TN. Virtual community, yes. Actual community, not so much.

We tried volunteering in areas that we feel passionate about – food waste, hunger elimination, environmental causes, etc. We also tried community activities and groups. There was even a minimalist group that met once. ONCE! We’re not religious so church is not really an option – not that there are any LGBT-friendly churches in our town anyway (I looked). I even considered joining a caregiver’s support group, but nope, there’s not one of those around here either. And with COVID-19 restrictions in place, all of our homesteading meetups have been cancelled and the library is still not hosting many activities.

Family, in a lot of Blue Zones, provides community as well, but I come from a fragmented family (to put it mildly). I’m the central hub in a wheel of people who can’t be in the same room with one another. It’s dysfunctional, I know (and a story for another day). Irregardless, Angie and I function pretty well and we’d like to keep doing so for a long time to come. Thus, the search for community continues. We want to meet and commune with folks who share our love of the simpler things in life, travel, minimalism, good food, and the great outdoors.

Little did we know, there was one such person right next door…

In late 2018, my mom’s longtime neighbors moved out and a new neighbor moved in. Over the next year, we exchanged a few pleasantries with the new neighbor but not much more. We thought she might be a bit of a recluse. This year, our new neighbor has been spending a lot of time outside, sitting under the pear tree, buried in her laptop. She rarely looked up, so again, we thought she just wasn’t that social.

Then one day in May, we were grocery shopping when a woman approached us, waving as if she knew us, and asked if we got our plants covered before the previous night’s freeze. It took me several minutes to figure out that she was my mom’s neighbor. For a long time, we stood in the aisle (out of traffic, of course) and talked. Turns out, she spent all of 2019 renovating the mess inside the house she bought. The previous owners had 3 little boys under the age of 5 and a preteen girl, all living in what once was a 2-bedroom home (they later converted the garage to a bedroom), so needless to say, it was a mess. This year, she was trying to spend more time where she loved to be – outdoors – and all that time on the computer? She recently went back to school.

The first indication that we might be more alike than we once thought was when she put 2 raised beds in her backyard. The next clue, was the chicken coop. You have no idea how long Angie has wanted to put chickens in the backyard! We’ve spent several afternoons chatting across the fence with her and have learned that we share a lot of common interests besides gardening. She loves to travel. She shops the Farmer’s Market. She is super frugal – in fact, she’s not even working right now. She’s a do-it-yourself kind of person. She hikes, paddles, and loves the same parks we do. She recently adopted a little dog to keep it out of the shelter and she once went to Africa to help hand out medical supplies, so I surmise she’s a caring sort of soul.

This week, she was canning pickles and tomatoes outside under a tent. Having just finished a round of pickles ourselves, we popped over for a chat and learned that she had bought a box of tomatoes and cucumbers from the Mennonites in Kentucky for $10/each. Oddly enough, we had just spent the better part of that very morning searching for the Mennonite store, with zero luck. And so it was decided that we would ALL go to Kentucky together next week – a girls’-day-out road trip – and load up her truck with (hopefully) a lot of goodies.

We’re both pretty happy to have found someone that we can have fun with and needless to say, we’re excited to get to know our “new” neighbor even better.

**That is if she doesn’t kill me first. You see, in the middle of writing this post, I ran over her water meter with the lawnmower. It was a freak accident. I was going around a bush on the property line when something stung me. Next thing you know, I was cutting across the neighbor’s yard, taking the water meter with me. She’s out of town right now but I have called the water company for a replacement, which I will definitely pay for if there’s a charge. This has been an awfully expensive year for bites and stings!