Friday, October 23, 2015

Good Neighbors

And He answered and said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” – Luke 10:27

Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” I would add, “Better yet, good neighbors make good neighbors.” And I've had a lot of them. Of course, when you live in the country, “neighbor” takes on a new meaning. I count as neighbors people who lived up to two miles away. As Jesus went on to explain in the parable of the Good Samaritan, being a neighbor is a state of mind. Or should I say, heart?

I spent a lot of time with my neighbors. We rode our bicycles around the yards, up and down the road, even to the local market one mile away. My best friend Holly and I often rode the 3 miles to Rockwood. It was uphill coming back, so we always made Dad come to pick us up and bring us home. We spent a lot of time on the road. It was a secondary road with little traffic, so it became our playground. Either my mom or their mom knew approximately where we were, but in those days it wasn't necessary to keep a real close eye on your kids. Although I do remember there was a kidnapping about 25 miles away, and afterwards my neighbor's mom made us practice screaming, “No, no, no!” and running away.

A lot of freedom came with life in the country. Jacy and Kellie Snyder and their niece Mandy and I spent a lot of time walking in the pasture and woods behind our barn. I don't recall ever telling Mom when we went off on one of our hikes. Those were the days.

The first leg of the hike was through open pasture. Somewhere along the way we would encounter the cows. When I was a kid we usually only had 4 or 5 cows, and they were quite docile. They stared bullet holes into us as we walked by and once in a while would follow us for a short distance, but unless we were offering food really couldn't care less about us.

There was that one time, though . . .

Cows can be dumb, but they do seem to have an internal clock, and usually headed back to the barn when it was milking / supper time. If they didn't show, someone would give a call, and it wouldn't be long before they would come strolling through the pasture. Every now and then, however, if they had an extra good patch of grazing or if they just decided to be childish and ignore us, someone would have to go find them. At that time my brother was milking 16 or more cows, and one day my nephew Glenn and I had the task to go get the cows. We found them at the far end of the pasture, nearly a half mile away. They needed some encouragement to head home, and Glenn “encouraged” them by running at them and yelling them into a stampede. Not a bad idea. UNLESS YOUR AUNT IS STANDING IN THE DIRECTION THE COWS ARE STAMPEDING. I had only seconds to react with my own yelling and arm waving and managed not to get trampeled.

But I digress. This is not a cow story.

More than half of our fenced-in pasture area was wooded. There was a makeshift road that could only be traversed by a tractor and farm equipment. Or a pickup truck if you're feeling brave. At the far end of the road was a large field that alternated between hay, corn and oats. We wouldn't be going that far, though.

But first we had to survive the “road.” There were two areas where runoff from a marshy area ran through. Depending on how much rain we'd had, these areas could have standing water, or more often 6 or 7 inches of sticky mud. At the side of the road some old boards had long ago been placed to cross the mudhole. The boards sank into the mud when you stepped on them, but they kept you from losing your shoes.

A short distance later there was a turn-off that led to the natural gas pipeline easement that went through our property. Then it was back into the woods and onto cow paths for the best part of the walk. If you've ever seen cows walking anywhere, you know that cows walk in single file (unless my nephew has stampeded them!). There's a designated leader, usually the pushiest one of the group, and the others dutifully follow. Whether it's in open pasture or through a wooded area, they almost always follow the same path. You would think cows would make a nice wide path. After all, look at the size of them. But their feet are relatively small, so the path might only be a foot across. It still made hiking much easier.
These are not my rocks (but I like the picture).
Unfortunately, we never thought to take pictures
of our little paradise.
Some tour guides we would have been.

From this point on, the path led down to a creek crossing. The cows waded through the shallow water, but our preference was to walk across the large rocks in the middle of the creek. We didn't always make it across. The rocks were the right size for several people to sit on and enjoy the sound of several miniature waterfalls. Really miniature: maybe only a foot drop, or several falls in a row of only a few inches. To us it was paradise.

On the other side of the creek and just off another cow path there was a gigantic wonder: a trailer-sized boulder jutting out from the ground. Years of rain and snow had made the top smooth, climbable, and a great place to have a picnic or just hang out. We thought our nature scene was so remarkable that we discussed having a park there and charging a fee for guided tours on the cow paths.

Many years later I looked for these magnificent vistas of my past. No cows had been in the woods for years, and the cow paths were grown over and barely discernible. I made it down to the creek and looked for my faithful rocks and waterfalls. The thing about running water, especially in a climate where the water freezes and thaws in the winter, is that it causes erosion. My rocks weren't so impressive now, and the waterfalls mere dribbles. And the trailer-sized boulder didn't seem so big anymore either. Are water and weather powerful enough to shrink my majestic rocks? Or was my memory playing tricks on me? People didn't carry cell phone cameras in their pockets in those days, and sadly I never thought to take pictures, so the only images that remain are those in my head - whether distorted or not.

I'd like to give a shout out to the wonderful country neighbors we always knew we could depend on for a helping hand. In many ways, though separated by several states, we know we still can. So here they are: the Snyder's, the Ansell's, the Berkey's, the Beener's, the Spangler's, the Schrock's, the Gerber's, the Pletcher's, the Lyon's. Many of the older generation, like my Mom, have gone on. In some cases total strangers now live in their houses, or the houses are no longer standing; but in my memory the houses still stand and the neighbors live on.

I have new neighbors now. Both the physical kind and the biblical kind. But the neighbors of my childhood will always have a special place in my heart. We had no need for fences.

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