Not far from our home is a hill filled with gold. It's been mined for nearly 100 years by methods high- and low-tech alike. Once a year we attend a small-town summer festival commemorating local mining history. We pay $5 or $6 for each girl to sift through a colander of dirt to "find" some gold nuggets. Then a man in grubby Levis will use calloused hands to deposit the gold flakes into a tiny vial of water that's exactly like perfume samples used to be on my neighbor lady's Avon catalogs. Only not stinky.
The girls keep track of their gold nuggets for a while, but the experience of sifting through the sand and gravel and dirt to find something shiny and valuable is living history. They hang on to that for longer, I hope.
I've been living some of that history over the past several months. And as I drive the back roads (way too much), I sift over and over the dirt and the gravel of disappointment in hopes that I'll have a nugget to display. Or to deposit in my bank of faith in humanity. I may need to draw on that account every once in a while.
Neighbors are problematic. Neighbors are just so -- human. To tell you the truth, so am I.
We moved to this idyllic, storybook setting more than two years ago after years of dreaming of living not just in the country, but right here. Our community is legendarily desirable. The land is gorgeous, the commute is decent, and the people are incredibly diverse in the best possible meaning of that word. We live side by side with ranchers and fiber artists and loggers and yoga teachers.
The Grange is the epicenter of a rural arts society where I can learn wreath making and woodworking and quilting ... and where we can watch films on a snowy winter evening during a potluck. The church reaches out to our area's families with sweetheart dinners and free babysitting services. The school hosts a spring carnival that draws all 400 people in a 10-mile radius... and some from further away... to play games that have no electronics in sight.
Nurseries and vineyards and community-supported agriculture are all within shouting distance of our old church-turned-farmhouse. And it's so very quiet here. On any given day, I swear the loudest noises are children playing a mile away and Canada geese honking in the next valley. Because there's no other noise. No traffic, no media, no hustle of commerce.
But the trade-off that comes with all this utopian village life is that we are all up in one another's business. We all know whether the bed-and-breakfast owners like horses (or not), whether the new gal on the road picks her kids up at school on time (or not), whether those other neighbors' dog slaughtered my chickens in broad daylight (oh, he did).
We all get to live side by side. The big front-porch movement in urban planning over the past decades? It's exactly based on our village, I'm pretty sure. We watch our neighbors walk on fine evenings. We ride our horses on the lane and wave to others sipping iced tea on their porches. We help when a widow needs a new foundation (literally, we dig under the piers with a dozen shovels and as many local men replacing concrete blocks at their own expense and while the big game's on to boot). We mow the elderly folks' pastures and we bring food when someone's sick. Oh, man, do we know how to bring the food.
But then, on the less-picturesque flip side, we know intimately who's been drinking too much. Who lost their temper one too many times. Who feeds their cattle moldy hay. All the togetherness turns judgmental and mean sometimes. I hate that part. I hate feeling scrutinized and I certainly don't want to sit in a judgment seat or the gossip booth. Ever.
Yesterday, when those dogs massacred my hens, the neighbor voted least likely to like me came and helped me in the rain to scoop up all seven. She refused to listen to my protestations that I could handle the job alone (I don't know how I could have). She ushered my children inside as we arrived home because she had witnessed the end of the tragedy and didn't want them to see the carnage. And then she helped me with one of the worst farmgirl chores I have ever had to do. She was gracious, and kind, and a gleaming example of the best of country life. Or neighborliness -- anywhere. I am humbled.
Yesterday my neighbor helped me. I feel a little as though I've been through a barn fire, and the chaff of personal opinions and prejudices burned away to reveal this nugget of truth.
Yesterday my neighbor helped me. And all the dirt and grit of a couple of years sifted away, washed away, to reveal a new porch in the neighborhood. A stunning deposit in my faith in humanity account.