Country School #7: Don't be a Stranger

I grew up in downtown Toronto and learned to be wary of strangers from a young age. I have been mocked by many a friend for my "Don't mess with me" mode. (Think scowl, fists, pointy elbows and lots of bling.) I go into this mode every time I leave my front door and unlearning this has been a decade long process. Like a tourist in a foreign land, I look to Aaron and mimic his behaviour when we come across strangers on our walks and outings. I awkwardly wave and smile a few seconds too late, and try not to panic when dogs come bounding up to me ("They can smell fear, Rachel!").

Knowing my neighbours has never been high priority for me. My parents are still locked in the thre-decade-long feud with our next door neighbours of my childhood. The few interactions I had with neighbours in my old apartments usually involved them complaining that my music was too loud.

One question visitors always have for us is "So, have you met your neighbours?", to which I answer "yeah, some of them" which Aaron rolls his eyes. Okay, confession, Aaron has met some of our neighbours. I have always somehow managed to be in the kitchen with the loud coffee grinder running.

Last week, Hydro Quebec was in our area, cutting down trees that were in danger of falling on the power lines. A MASSIVE tree was cut down across the road (on the property of the infamous Rogue Shetland!) and the logs were gorgeous with no rotting. Our normal M.O. for "roadside shopping" is to leave it for a few days before grabbing it. We figure if its still there on the curb, it's probably free for the taking, right? It didn't quite feel right to just take these logs, though, and we figured it was a good opportunity to introduce ourselves to the neighbours. The logs would have made great firewood but were so massive that it would have been a pain to chop up into smaller pieces, and we figured we could offer to exchange an equal amount of already cut up firewood.

Still wary, I let Aaron go over by himself. The first time, no one was home. When Aaron tried again last night, he returned about 10 minutes later a bit distraught. The interaction had been awkward - he seemed to have interrupted her in the middle of something, as well as riling up her three dogs. She was a bit curt and said she had plans for the wood. Aaron came back disappointed and concerned that he had made a bad first impression.

As we were discussing it, the doorbell rang. It was our neighbour! With one of her dogs. And an apologetic smile. She said that as soon as Aaron left she regretted her reaction. Apparently the guy across the street (our next door neighbour) is quite sketchy. She lives alone and rarely has unexpected visits. She went out to examine the logs in question and realized they were far too big for her purposes and then followed Aaron's tracks in the snow to our front door to offer them to us!

We exchanged names and phone numbers and Aaron and our new neighbour made plans to meet in the morning to move the logs over. She insisted on helping and together they rolled seven monstrous logs down the street. I still managed to busy myself indoors and had managed to summon up the courage to go out and invite her in for coffee when Aaron returned to the house alone, with a gift bag. Inside was a card that said (in French) "Having young neighbours who appreciate nature is as precious to me as good and true friends", and the amazing hand knit slippers in the picture above.

I was completely unprepared for the wave of relief and love I felt opening that gift. All of a sudden I felt a sense of security and connection to someone here, not just the land. I am so grateful to our neighbour for her warmth and generosity. She could easily have just shrugged her shoulders when Aaron left and that could have been the awkward beginnings of a very long and lukewarm relationship. But she went out into the snow and extended a welcome as warm as those slippers.

And the best part? She says we can come over anytime to hang out with the pony!