By Jen Jackson Quintano
It was, perhaps, not my finest moment.
I might have treated one Sandpoint land baron as a proxy for them all.
I might have been unkind and unfair. But I stand by my statements.
Recently, we needed permission to park in our client’s neighbor’s driveway to access material and chip limbs. This is a situation we often encounter, and 9.9 times out of 10, the neighbor doesn’t bat an eye. He might just pull up a lawn chair with the client and watch the show. Better yet, he might invite the crew to tackle his trees, too. Usually, joviality between neighbors ensues: talk of the kids, travel plans, neighborhood happenings. The crew cleans up debris and moves on, driveway unscathed, neighborly bonds fortified.
I’m not taking credit for this human connection. I’m just saying that an event requiring neighbors to communicate — Can these guys park in your driveway, Dave? — often leads to the benefits of communication: connection, collaboration, camaraderie.
This job, however, was different.
The neighbor lived out of state, rarely present. The thought of our truck in his driveway concerned him. He told his neighbor no way… unless we purchased $450 in additional insurance coverages and provided him with myriad documents prior to work commencing.
Since $450 destroyed our profit margin on the job, we scrapped the driveway plan. But not without some email correspondence. I asked why the proof of insurance I supplied was insufficient. He responded, “I want to be a good neighbor. At the same time this isn’t of any benefit to me other than being a good neighbor.”
I retorted, “I might be out of line here, but sometimes, it just feels good to do your neighbor a favor. And that’s enough. No benefit required. At least, that’s been my experience here. We take care of each other. And that’s what makes Sandpoint good. Not the lake, not the mountain. The sense of community.”
I clicked “send” and walked away.
Apparently, I struck a nerve. He immediately called Tyler — not me — angrily proclaiming his good-citizenship credentials. He was not the bad guy I made him out to be. I was being unfair.
Maybe I was. But the line, “this isn’t of any benefit to me other than being a good neighbor,” irked me. Still does. I want neighborliness to be the endgame. I want people to recognize it as the highest good, so that we don’t barrel into 2024 with opposing flag-flying armies again. So whether “Love Lives Here” or “Love Guns Here,” we can peacefully share a driveway. And a beer. And this community.
Do you want to know what neighborliness looks like? Our nonagenarian neighbor recently paid for a property survey to ensure that our well pump house wasn’t mistakenly built on her land years ago. We knew it was close, but she took it upon herself to make sure we had ownership.
“I’m gonna croak soon,” she said, “and before I do that, I want to know that you kids have access to your own water.”
She was willing to make property line adjustments for us. She didn’t want this to be a fight we faced with the potentially less neighborly homeowners who might someday replace her. The kind who hold their driveways close and their property lines closer.
This is the same neighbor who invites me to pick her raspberries each summer, her apples in the fall. She showers my daughter with doll house furniture and knitting supplies. I help her fill out forms she can’t read well and we have her over for Easter brunch. As I write this, I am reminded that I should visit. Because I haven’t seen her in a while. And I appreciate the hell out of her. And she won’t be here forever. And that makes my heart squeeze.
She’s a neighbor who doesn’t just say, “Sure, access my property for the day.” She’s a neighbor who says, “Take some of my property, if it means you can comfortably stay on yours.”
That’s some next-level neighborliness.
When we moved our two sticks of furniture into our little log cabin a dozen years ago, a neighbor brought us a load of firewood within days of our arrival, seeing as we had none and it was November. Other neighbors had us over for weekly drinks and dinner and conversation, knowing that we were flat broke and lonely. Though we are no longer neighbors, this couple still has us over for gatherings, has asked me to be executor of their will and celebrates our daughter’s birthday every year. Now, they are like family.
However, I understand that Sandpoint can no longer rise to the occasion of greeting every newcomer. A friend who has lived here many years recently commented, “I used to welcome newbies with open arms [Tyler and I were among those welcomed] but now there are just too many. I don’t feel welcoming. I feel upset.”
I get that unneighborly behavior runs both ways. I’ve seen residents get pissy with visitors downtown more times than I can count this summer. The welcome mat starts to wear thin after a while. But if all newcomers and part-timers could muster some humility, curiosity and warmth, that would go a long way toward building bridges and fortifying our community.
Let’s be clear: I don’t so much have a problem with newcomers as I do with assholes.
My daughter’s school recently sent an email to all parents to help them discern between “voicing opinions” and making “defamatory statements.” It explained that words “threatening the safety or ability of our staff to perform in their vocation uninhibited” were not OK. As if that required explanation. As if grown adults needed a reminder to stop bullying the teachers.
But they do. Sadly. They do.
A new family to the school targeted one of the longest-serving staff members. This staff member, in my mind, is the beating heart of the entire school community. Yet, thanks to someone having an idea of what Idaho is — and having her not fit that mold — the school was forced to send out missives reminding parents not to verbally assault the staff.
Can we please exercise more kindness? Or at least restraint? Can we place others at the center for occasional moments, rather than the self?
I will be the first to admit that I am not the perfect neighbor. It is all too easy to get caught up in the frenzy of life and not check in on those who surround me. Yet, if everything were to be lost — to flood, fire or political shitstorm — what would my family have left except for the bonds of community?
I write this as a reminder to myself as much as anyone.
Be a good neighbor, not an asshole.
Give of your driveway. Give of your heart.
Repeat as necessary.
And remember that neighborliness is not so much about sharing property lines as it is about sharing. Period.
Jen Jackson Quintano writes and runs an arborist business with her husband in Sandpoint. Find their website at sandcreektreeservice.com. See more of Quintano’s writing at jenjacksonquintano.com.
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