I’ve posted in this blog about my fear of being the biggest hillbilly family on the block by virtue of my approach to yard work. If anyone takes offense to the term “hillbilly,” I actually mean to say a “hill person” or, um, “prairie challenged,” whatever.
To clarify for the purposes of this post, in using the term this time, I’m talking less about the number of dogs one has sleeping under the porch than I am an attitude; a general prickliness toward one’s neighbors. That and a propensity to threaten people with firearms are all you need to be a hillbilly by my reckoning. And maybe a bad haircut.
What I’m actually referring to is the full-on Hatfield-slash-McCoy situation going on in my neighborhood.
We live on the banks of an irrigation canal, which might be called scenic. Our property line extends to the middle of the waterway, so we also own part of a dirt road that stretches along the canal for maintenance. We pay property taxes on it, but have no authority over it. It’s a perfectly rational situation for anyone who has studied water and property law as they pertain to an arid, high desert region. There’s big money in studying something so simultaneously boring and contentious.
When my parents moved to this neighborhood almost thirty years ago, and up until about a year ago, the road was popular with dog walkers, high school cross country teams, bicyclists, and all sorts of others. When we bought a house down the street from my parents, a major selling point was the direct access to the canal road. It was like posh, riverside living, except for the occasional pile of illegally dumped lawn clippings floating by.
Oh, and living down the street from my parents was a plus too, once we got them to realize that we did not live in a perpetual episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where various and sundry members of the family waltz in at any hour, unannounced.
I used to love working in my back yard, stopping to greet my neighbors walking by. Our dogs got to know each other. People would comment on my pots of geraniums or the new fountain I bought myself as a Mother’s Day gift from my thoughtful family.
Today though, if someone is walking down the canal road, with full view of my back yard and all kinds of goings-on, they’re likely casing the joint. Walkers or traffic of any kind besides the ditch guys is today a thing of the past.
The problem started with one guy who would walk with his wife and two dogs up and down the path at least twice a day. They were friendly and would stop to talk to neighbors while their little beasts marked every linear inch of fence line along that path and defecated more than one might expect from any mammal the size of a rodent. We overlooked this because that’s what neighbors do.
About four years ago, this same guy took up sitting in a folding chair along the path after his walk and chasing people who passed. One minute he and his lovely wife would be walking their two, little poop factories along the road, stopping to ask about our kids and exclaiming about our potted plants, the next moment some poor woman in a warm up suit would run by screaming while the guy chased after her, threatening to call the police.
There were rumors about what was causing this behavior that I’m not going to expand upon, but the guy and his wife eventually put their house up for sale and they’re no longer guiding their little shitzu-namis along the road behind our house. We wish them the best.
In the meantime, they stirred up a little storm of angst which pitted neighbor against neighbor. It turns out there are a total of, I think, three households out of fifty lining this popular walking path (in addition to the “Rodents of Unusual Size” owners who no longer live here) who have been harboring latent frustrations about canal traffic. Various neighborhood meetings have been held, police have been called and citations for trespassing have been issued. To date, no one is really sure what is legal and what is not.
One guy recently noted in an online neighborhood forum that he is not only angry at the unmitigated gaul of folks treading across his property, he’s also armed.
Seriously? I mean, we’re in Idaho. A full seventy percent of the population could find a firearm tucked in the closet behind the ski gear if they looked. The fact that you would bring it up in conversation with your neighbors tells me you have strong inclinations toward hillbilly-ism, and not the fiddle-playing, southern-hospitality hillbilly either, but the backwoods-moonshine-distilling-alligator-wrestling scary cracker brand.
The ditch guys have rather gleefully gotten involved in this dispute. They occasionally will rip up the path with a plow for a surface that is sure to cause an ACL injury should one try to run on it. Once in a while they’ll trim trees and other growth and leave piles of combustable material to block the road until someone takes this up with our local fire district, or the county people in charge of noxious weeds.
For a while, some of us said “to hell with them,” the laws aren’t clear and they’re just being cranky farts anyway. For a little while I continued to run my dog along the road. But then one guy installed a video camera and nailed up a nasty note. My neighbor put up “no trespassing” signs at either end of her portion of the road. I could have access, she said, but I heard her yell at other passers by every weekend.
There was one portion of the road where I would occasionally let my goofy lab off the leash to take a seconds-long dip in the canal. Once he startled a family of ducks from beneath some weeds. A guy on the opposite bank was spraying something that apparently was effective in keeping his bank of the canal absolutely lifeless from the water line up to where his very manicured looking lawn started.
“Hey, you’re not allowed here, lookit what that dang dog is doing to the duck habitat.”
I am so not kidding, he had the nerve to yell at me about the damage my dog was doing to ducks that were likely to lose their feathers if they came into contact with whatever he was over-spraying right along the waterline on the opposite side of the canal.
Hill. Freaking. Billy. This guy.
It’s all an unpleasant situation resulting in a drastic change to our neighborhood. Now, instead of a conversation with acquaintances as I’m dead-heading my geraniums, I’m feeling like a character in a Cormac McCarthy novel, where wisps of garbage blow by unchecked and rangy dogs scavenge for scraps of floating road kill. Where I must guard against passing traffic lest my pets become someone’s dinner.
I have contemplated putting up big, happy face signs on my fence to mitigate the bad karma from my next door neighbor’s “No Trespassing” notices, or hanging up prayer flags and burning sage in my backyard like a shaman.
And then I’m going to put the trailer back out in front of our house. On blocks. I’m going to have the boys’ hair cut especially for our neighborhood… business in the front, party in the back. I’m going to sit on my fraying web-style lawn chair and let a collection of beer cans assemble at my feet. Embracing my inner “hill person.”
Party in the freaking front, man. Bam.