make hay when the sun shines

this photo has Nothing to do with this post but rudy was being hurtful in his morning cuteness.  this post is about our neighbors not about pitbulls. and i find that taking photos of neighbors can feel rather invasive and rude. 

there's been a lot of talk --on my side of things--about the generosity of neighbors. as i mentioned in a comment on monday we give milk, yogurt, and eggs to our immediate neighbors. these are they that live on the same property as us. we believe firmly that the food we make here should, firstly, feed those who live here. they return the goodwill with gifts of yurts, soups and hay. but there is another slope of the mountain that doesn't have the means to giveaway $10,000 tents. it's a pretty stark contrast between rich and poor up here. most everyone seems to want to live in the same honest way with the natural world but some houses have solar panels and subarus and others have collapsed barns and skinny cows. i'd be unfaithful to you if i told you i treat both kinds of neighbors the same.

the subaru half went to the same schools we did. they buy the same six dollar dish soap from the same million dollar co-op. they buy the same peonies from the same farmer's markets. they have the same rustic-hippie-chic look nailed down to the dried flowers and herbs in carefully labeled jelly jars and the heavy collection of cast iron skillets.

when people have this sameness with you, its so simple to treat them as old friends. it makes one, me, feel secure in their proximity. it makes dinners and parties natural and easy.

it's class snobbery in a subtle form. like attracting like. and it makes me angry and uncomfortable despite my continuing complacency. we haven't invited the brothers with the skinny cows for dinner. neither the mother and son with the broken barn. or he who lives in the derelict trailer.

i would probably go forth in my cowardice if it weren't for nick. as far as i can tell in these 4 1/2 years together, nick doesn't seem to give a care about sameness.  he has a terrifically big and open heart and believes in the humanity of others not out of sympathy but out of camaraderie. he believes so very truly that everyone means well. he only takes things personally when i spend a breathless two hours convincing him that he should.

he believes in the general goodness of people. a kindness i only extend to animals.

a couple of weeks ago we were riding home from town in the drenching rain when we passed a man with cardboard sign that read the name of our town. i did my usual fake half smile and looked onward but no sooner had we passed him nick said he thought we should pick him up. i reviewed for him the horrors of knife-throwing hitchhikers, but nick ignored the true horror of my selfishness,  reversed the car and gave me a heavy jar to wield as a weapon should things get ugly. when we stopped the car for the psychopath to jump in i breathed we're ok as it was our neighbor, paul.  we rode back in the damp warmth of the car all talking of last frost and planting beans. it was the first time i had properly met paul, as i usually scooted quickly by his very rundown looking trailer, always assuming the worst.

of course, we all know where assuming gets one. now, i can slow down when i see paul out in his garden and ask if he needs anything at the store or a ride somewhere. he says no, thanks, kate. and for whatever reason this makes me smile to town. i guess i get high on the idea of a neighbor knowing my name and that he isn't the only neighbor who does but part of a real community on our mountain where everyone knows your name.

or maybe i'm just being self congratulatory on momentarily not being the bigot i am.

in new york i didn't know a single person in my tower of a building, let alone my block. when we lived in san francisco we always had some neighbor friends but they were generally restricted to the over sized victorian we all lived in. in france, all of our neighbors spoke the obvious french and insisted on correcting me in live-time through every conversation which got old and so i took care to avoid speaking at all. in north carolina we had my cousins across the farm but there was barely any contact with the other neighbors save for when we suspected them of shooting one of our pigs or stealing our onions. in the suburbs of boston we had a burglary in our  neighborhood when we first arrived. after that i was certain the whole lot suspected us as we stuck out like sore dirty thumbs with our dayglo knit caps and muddy boots and a dirty, loud car.

but here, the people on this mountain treat each other like breathing feeling human beings. it certainly isn't perfect and i don't doubt some of our neighbors hold the same conscious and subconscious prejudices against other neighbors that i do. yet everyone knows each other in some manner. there are rumors that fly. there is one relationship of outright hostility (something about the rumors) but there is an acknowledgement of humanity that i find so very humbling and so very new. and i am so very grateful for it.

tuesday night, after, what was an exhausting nonstop day before the rains came, nick and i threw ourselves into some town clothes and into the car for an escape to easy consumerism and a pizza. we fought about who was more tired and who would drive and i lost, somehow. but we didn't get more than a mile from the house when we passed rick and bob's hay field. the rain was just starting it's teasing descent and they were out there with a wagon half-full and bales still on the ground.

nick being nick told me to stop the car. it was starting to rain and if you don't get the hay in before the rain, it's ruined. it's moldy and done. we scurried out to help. i very obviously under-dressed in a shift and sandals and silently hoping they'd decline the help. but of course they didn't. they were just two and we were two more. and the heaven's were threatening. as soon as it became clear how grateful they were for the extra bodies i got over myself and into the job.

we ended up there for a couple hours as we helped throw the bales from field to wagon and then fired up the hay elevator and formed a four-man chain to get everything to dry safety. rick was in the wagon throwing me the bales which i plunked onto the elevator to send up to nick where he kept smiling and winking at me and then throwing them on to bob.

we shook hands when the bales were put to bed. exchanged numbers and promised to call one another when we needed extra bodies again.

by the time we got to town we were too late for the easy consumerism i had planned but we were able to get a warm dry bite to eat both beaming off the high of living in a land where a trip to town can be so derailed.

i'm finding it hard to be very eloquent in my conclusion of this post. i'm not sure what i hoped to discover about wretched old me in writing it. i guess just to say the obvious, that neighbors are all wonderful. here and there and where you are. and yes, they can be most wonderful when they give you large wooden tents or have you over to eat dinner out of painted moroccan bowls and sit you down to watch Stop Making Sense. but every neighbor is equal in their deserving of respect and friendship. it's a concept that is so obvious but one that i seem to ignore with each move.

i'm ashamed at my intentional reluctance to get to know some of our mountain brethren. but i'm very fortunate to live in a place where you have no choice but to love thy neighbor. and most fortunate to have nick by my side always teaching me by example that you Get Over Yourself and start making friends.

also, i changed the names of my neighbors in an attempt to respect their mountain-worshiping privacy.


  1. Beautiful post. thank you for your honesty. I am aware of the same type of judgement in my life and have a good man to show me how to be better too.

  2. A very honest post that I am sure every reader can relate to. Where I live in the suburbs, we are equally divided by the type of neighborhood we live in creating a narrow field of vision. One reason why I hate the suburbs.

    I grew up in the UK and spent a lot of time at my Grandmothers in the country. How you describe your neighbors is how it was there. We were all made to pitch in at the village farms and my sister and I often went off and spent a day with the gypsies down by the Quarry....something I fear has been bred out of me now. Your post is good food for thought. Thank you.

  3. thank you for writing. i so look forward to reading each new post. your words are refreshing, inspiring, thought provoking and light shedding.

  4. Kate, I love your honesty in this, and I don't think you're wretched. I love the picture of humanity here--it made me want to cry at Nick's willingness to truly love people, and your willingness to stretch beyond your comfort zone. Truly beautiful.

    Last night MY neighbors helped me too-carrying heavy old mattresses out and heavy new mattresses in because they saw we needed help. And they wouldn't take anything in return--not even an extra jar of pickles! It's those things that really reaffirm my belief in people's goodness.

  5. I'm in Brooklyn and I just met my brownstone neighbors for the first time after living next to each other for THREE YEARS when our landlord took down the literal/metaphorical fence between us to do some construction. And then the very next day, the neighbor helped my Sweetheart move our standing beds of peppers and tomatoes in advance of more Brooklyn rubble (and, ah yes, you should see our collection of cast iron). It's that easy, I suppose.

    And, oh, oh, oh I do so love everything you share here. Thank you for your clear voice and your hard work and please, please keep writing.

  6. you are such a good writer and wise beyond your years miss kate ! (eloquence was achieved) best~ robyn

  7. you are such a good writer and wise beyond your years miss kate ! (eloquence was achieved) best~ robyn

  8. what a great post. my husband and i are very similar to you and nick in that he is so open and always thinks the best of people, and i'm always trying to convince him it isn't that way. we have lived in our house for 4 years and only know two of the people on our block. on because they work at the same store we do, and one named Snake because he came and introduced himself and is a pretty stellar human. thanks for the reminder to get out and talk to those people you see every day. i'm really prone to keeping to myself and thinking we have nothing in common.

  9. A reminder that we are all connected. Great post.

  10. A wonderful and honest post. Thank you for the neighborly reminder :)

  11. This post is just another reason why your blog is probably one of my most favorite to read.

    We bought our house five years ago and I barely know four of my neighbors, mainly because THEY went out of their way to be friendly with ME. This post inspires me to go say hi to my newest neighbor who moved in three months or so ago, who may be just as shy and assuming as I am.

    THANK YOU! :)

  12. you're wonderful, thanks for being so open. I guess it's a fear we all have to some degree, but it's good to have someone to push you out of your comfort zone every now and then :) I'm incredibly thankful for all those who have pushed me and made me grow, I wouldn't be the same without them.

  13. I love Nick! Also I love that you are NOT entirely like him when it comes to people but that you are more than willing to be influenced by him in this regard. Recipe for a happy life, I think. Lovely post, good reminder, and I'm sure worth writing for the sake of memorializing all those little interactions.

  14. Thank you for your honesty. When reading blogs there is usually a bit of a lack of true feelings and reality, always showing the brighter side of a situation or the greener grass. As a young brooklyn family of 4, we are in a current search for new grounds to step on, mainly Vermont. We will be spending a few weeks there this summer sussing out our future possible home. If you don't mind sharing, what area are you in? Thank you. Alethea

  15. Just found your blog the other day, and this post really struck a chord with me. It takes an extraordinary person to say the things you have on this post.

    I live in one of those neighborhoods where no one speaks and many go out of their way to avoid all eye contact when you drive by. It's sad and it sucks. It's one of the driving forces behind my husband and I making the decision to buy land and start a small farm.

    Now, I'm going to take a good, hard look at myself in the mirror and try to be a little better person...

  16. thanks for these words ... i have just stumbled upon your blog, and have fallen a little bit in love with the way that you write.

    i'm a little bit behind you on the path to farmhood, and am getting very inspired by everything that you're sharing.

  17. A brilliant and very honest Blog post, the sort you write so well.

    It's nice that you and Nick balance each other and each bring freshness and added goodness to the other if you know what I mean, it's what we all hope for in our partner. I have it, you have it, we're so lucky.

    Nice to be getting to know your neighbours too, these little shared times bring a safety and security when you live in the wilds of the country.

    Sue xx

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  19. Dear Kate,
    Your honest and lovely writing and the stories you so skillfully unfold of everyday life, make for equally cathartic and soul searching reading.

  20. Brilliant post as usual - I really enjoyed reading it.

    I am a lot like Nick, bit I am finding it harder and harder to be like that now. We love in a small suburban village and many of our neigbours are not the friendly nice people you describe. I have tried being nice to them, often on several occasions, and just had it thrown back in my face. They wont ever be nice to us, or any of their other neigbours.

    In short, I am envious of you. Envious that the sort of 'kindness is repaid by kindness' lifestyle is achievable where you live. On your darkest days you can always remind yourself that you have one of life's simplest pleasures - nice neigbours!

  21. Thank you for your honesty. This is a powerful piece of writing and I so needed to read it.

    You are great.


  22. Your honesty is a breath of fresh air. We see this alot in our little town. It's so sad. Everyone deserves love and respect.

  23. Beautiful, beautiful post. Thank you!

  24. JUST found your blog and I am beyond happy I did because my boyfriend just bought a farm recently and asked me to move in with him. While he is definitely the farming type, it is a new experience for me! While we are working on fixing up the actual house and the land for now, the animals and everything else we be coming soon!

    Can't wait to read more from your blog! :)

  25. Posts like this are why I start my day off checking in with your blog. I can totally relate, and funny it seems that many of us have a man prodding us in the other direction :)

  26. Kate, this is astonishingly beautiful. I applaud your honesty and your eloquence and your philosophical portrayal of human nature. You are oh so gifted.

    Tears started pouring right about at, "they were just two and we were two more."

    Seriously, brilliant.

  27. Wow, I love your honesty in everything you write.

  28. As always, touched and chewing on your words for days. Such a strange thing to be touched by a complete stranger so far away. I hope today is a good day on the farm.

  29. This speaks to my soul more than words can say. I feel that I'm perhaps on the opposite end of you. I'm the skinny cow neighbor, feeling threatened by my neighbors with more comfortable homes. I haven't broken the barrier because I'm seeking sameness and I haven't found it here.

    Nice to meet you, Kate, I'm Theresa.

  30. What a beautiful post! I am so glad to find your blog through a friend's recommendation. Just amazing and you sound like such a lovely complementary couple. I wish you the very best.


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