On many days, the farm is a busy place. People come to garden, to pick vegetables, to help with the harvest, with wood, or apple juice making or butchering. Some of the time I am outside and often, I stay in the house and produce coffee and cake and soup and juice. I don’t mind a traditional role as long as it’s an occasional choice.
The conversation is always about people we know and gardens and dogs and weather. Rarely do larger events intrude. I love the sense of neighbourhood, of community, and I understand the limits that this kind of community includes. This isn't about political or cultural sharing; this is about the work.
But living at the farm also includes an uneasy geographical proximity to people with whom I have nothing in common so that geographical proximity breeds an odd contradiction. A truly ironic example of this happend on the first long weekend in May. I was inside listening to a special on CBC radio on the rapidly melting ice sheet in Greenland and the implications of this for the world’s oceasn. When I went outside, all I could hear was machine noise; weed whackers, lawnmowers, boats, seadoos, chain saws, and long lines of motorcyles and RV’s on the highway. The summer people (who are not neighbours) had arrived.
Once rural community was built on a gift economy. When we were kids, and people came to visit our parents, no one ever left without something, a box of apples, a bottle of wine, or some cookies. Neighbours shared work, food, news, and help. This is still true but now not all people who live nearby are actually neighbours.
Good neighbours are the people who show up when your house is on fire, or the forest is on fire, if your pigs get out, or your dog is sick or you need a ride to town. They come to dinner or just for coffee; something they only come occasionally, but you’re are always glad to see them. Good neighbours invite you over for coffee when you need it; their kids play with your kids; they plow your driveway after a big snow, give you their many different colours of iris corms, or their abundance of whatever they have, vegetables or apples or salad greens.
And of course, geographical neighbours can also be the people whose kids roar up and down the nearest road in their ATVs, who have dogs that bark all night or get off the leash and come over and kill chickens; neighbours who have parties, let off fireworks at night when you are in a sound sleep, spray Roundup in the creek that goes through your pasture where you are raising organic beef, use up all the water in the creek in mid summer when it is most dry, light fires despite a ban, they build fences that are five or ten or fifteen feet in on your land. Such neighbours can be an infernal nuisance.
Neighbours is a contradictory word; community is a warm and fuzzy word but often contains the same contradictions. A community is always close-knit in a crisis because crisis creates community. So does hunger and fear, birth and death, joy and grief. Marriage unites a community but so does gossip, and hatred and love. Rural community was always built on sharing, survival, and necessity and underneath the ephemeral chatter of the present day industrialized suburban nonsense, those bonds still, and always will, exist.
In a future that is looking increasingly difficult for humanity, the gifts of family, neighourhood, community and clanship will begin to resume the kind of importance they have traditionally always had.