1. Warm weather brings people outside.
2. Backyards with no fences invite the neighbors over.
One aspect of life T and I sought by moving to this small seaside town was beautifully articulated by Bill McKibben in his 2008 essay in the journal Orion, "Where Have All the Joiners Gone?" that has stayed with me since I first read it.
He calls for Americans today to "relearn neighborliness" — a way of life that he suggests means far more than an offhand morning smile and nod or finding someone to feed the cat when you're out of town.
Much more, in fact. Neighborliness all but kept us alive in the days before cheap fossil fuel, he points out. It wasn't even really a choice.
McKibben uses farming for examples, but points out that globalization permeated nearly every career, every American's way of life.
Where we once physically depended on our community for daily life, say, by trading eggs and potatoes for a cobbler's services, or enlisting many hands to harvest wheat, industrialization brought machines a person could buy, that could accomplish what once took the cooperation of many folks. We moved toward a system of cash for goods, instead of a personal, community-and-trust-building exchange.
And with tractors and plows, not only did were people more self-reliant, but the land between neighbors physically grew bigger because of higher crop yields.
With more space between them and technology rapidly progressing, neighbors drifted apart. We soon didn't need each other in the same way, McKibben explains.
But maybe we do.
Maybe there's something to be said for mutual reliance, as anti-American as the notion may seem.
He argues that our "nation of drive-around-by-ourselfers" may need the support of neighbors in more ways than we'd like to admit.
This topic that comes up in different forms fairly often for T and me, and a part of our recent move was to root ourselves in the type of community that we saw as conducive to that old-fashioned neighborliness, a la Anne of Green Gables, a children's novel which, for innumerable reasons, is nearly always in my thoughts.
Obviously, you can practice neighborliness most anywhere you live, but for us, this seemed as good a place as any to nest and lend a hand in building the type of community we're seeking.
We've lived here ten months now, and when McKibben's essay floated into my brain today, I started reflecting on our neighbors here, and more importantly, what kind of neighbors we've been ourselves.
In truth, it's often easier and more convenient to park the car and walk inside without checking in on our neighbor waving from his porch, or venture across the street to introduce myself to the folks who just moved in.
By nature, I enjoy solitude. I'm introverted and can be shy to a fault. On top of that, in my experience, we're fairly conditioned in this culture to leave a wide girth between our lives and those around us unless we're clearly invited in. I was taught to let people mostly alone, to respect the privacy of others, and definitely not to meddle.
But I've learned that for me, this philosophy can leave little room for understanding the needs of those around me and little opportunity for them to know me, either.
Luckily, we've landed in a lovely spot to experiment with the art of "embracing nonindependence," as McKibben calls it.
Jane, our neighbor to the right, looks after our cat when we're gone, and when we're here, we look after each other. One afternoon when it was about to rain and we weren't home, she brought our clothes in from the line for us. We helped her clear her overgrown mint; now it's drying in our house.
A retired neighbor, Bill, who lives to our left, went out of his way to take us out on his boat last week since we don't have one. We help his wife, Judy, with computer problems from time to time and brought them fresh strawberries the other day. Sometimes, a stack of various southern magazines waits on the front porch for me when I get home, since Judy knows I enjoy them.
We've had more plants gifted to us than we know what to do with, and our upstairs neighbors recently brought us a gorgeous set of pots and pans because someone had given them a new set as a wedding present. When T works on our front-yard garden, it's fair to say that almost every neighbor stops by at some point for a chat.
We're nowhere near the interdependence of our ancestors, of course, but stepping out of my comfort zone to cultivate these relationships has already come back tenfold, adding a new layer of depth and meaning to our lives here.
Maybe the simple act of getting to know each other fosters the kind of tolerance and compassion that can form the social and emotional bonds our ancestors communities inherently benefited from through physically needing one another to survive.
Although I wasn't so sure about it in the beginning, I've come to appreciate our open-invitation, fenceless backyard.