Running Out Of Strangers

When we lived in the city (Portland, OR) we were surrounded by people (593,820 strangers at the last count), and one of the main reasons we moved here is because we enjoy our privacy. Peace, quiet, and space awaited us. But as the poet John Donne noted, No Man Is An Island.

One thing I recall when we first moved here was how everyone waved to each other as they drove past. It seemed almost prosaic, and I admit that after coming from the big city – where almost no one waved or said hello – to the wide open spaces of the countryside, where everyone waved or said hi, it felt a little…weird.

Last summer I decided to turn our front yard and lawn into a vegetable garden. “Front yard” being a 14,000 sq. ft. lawn and in my last post I shared more about this project. The project is well on its way, and here is the current state of play, two shots of before and after (well, in progress at least):

Front Lawn, Before And After

Front Lawn, Before And After #1

Front Lawn, Before and After

Front Lawn, Before and After #2

One of the unexpected consequences of turning our front yard into a vegetable garden is that everyone who drives past gets to see my progress. I guess it is like posting photos. of the progress (or lack thereof) of your New Year resolution for all to see.

What on Earth…

Last September, on the very day on which I chose to plow my lawn, our local Jehova’s Witnesses arrived to preach their message. I am always welcoming and polite…too polite…my wife wishes I’d just scutter them away! The young man was on-point with his message of salvation, but the more senior woman with him kept turning around to witness my mid-plowing act of wanton lawn destruction, until she finally interrupted his Watchtower pitch and piped-up to inquire what on earth I was doin’ in the yard.

“Well, you never know what may happen,” I winked. “I’m going to grow our food.”

She didn’t seem too convinced by my explanation nor by the logic of it.

Since then, everyone who has driven past our home has witnessed the progress of what I was doin’ in my yard.

I spend on average about an hour a day in the garden, at any time from dawn until dusk. All our neighbors, their dogs, friends, horses, delivery drivers, and anyone who finds themselves driving by our home gets to observe the progress from grass lawn, to barren soil, to sprouting seeds, and – hopefully – beyond.

Naturally, all these folk driving by our home wave at me, and I wave back. And our children have internalized the wave at our neighbors mantra, and now they always wave and shout hi…to anyone who drives past. Folk on their walks stop and chat for a moment, and we share stories about the best time to plant corn, the best way to till-over a new garden (a pig, with pork to boot), the wildlife, to admire the changing snowline on Mt. Hood in the distance, or just to stand in silence savoring the moment together.

And the UPS and FedEx drivers both wave and toot their horns when they drive past.

I’ve now met and chatted with every neighbor in our area, and I’ve shared stories with them all, about when and why they moved here, their families, their work, their gardens and – recently – many have slowed down and given a wave and a thumbs-up or wound their window down and hollered “Looking great!” before speeding on their way.

Recently, an increasing number of complete strangers have stopped their cars to take a peek at what I am doin’ in my yard. Most wave back when I wave…they probably aren’t expecting it, and maybe even think it a little weird. I am seriously running out of strangers.

In Pole Position

Hop Pole

Hop Pole

I recently saw a group of neighbors standing at the foot of the garden looking puzzled, scratching their heads, and chatting while pointing at the garden.

“It’s for hops,” I said, and they let out a collective, “Aha!”

Here’s the mysterious pole that I installed in my yard and around which I’m growing hops. This should provide a nice shaded area next summer, plus plenty of hops for the different styles of beer that I enjoy brewing.

The transformation of the front yard has been hard work, no doubt, but it’s been made that much easier by the friendships and new connections I’ve made…they motivated me and spurred me on, and there have been more than a few rainy mornings where I could have easily quit but realized that now I’ve made this whole thing a public commitment – and this blog is the least public aspect of it – I’d best get back to work.

Memorial Day weekend here was particularly sodden, and here I am slogging through the wet, sticky soil after two solid days of work in the garden:

Soggy Gardening

Soggy Gardening

Well-Tended Seeds Begin To Sprout

AKA Water The Roots

The original idea I had was to grow food in our front yard, but in many ways the gardening now seems ancillary to the experience of growing so many new relationships. I’ve probably befriended over 60 or 80 different strangers over the last few months, and I’ve made many genuine, human connections and friendships in ways that social media will never provide. And all from an isolated farm house atop a hill on the edge of a wilderness in rural Oregon.

We all wish to protect our privacy, and moreover to protect the relationships and connections that are important to us.

I believe that waving to your neighbors is a good start. Why not begin today…oh, and throw a few strangers in to the experiment, for good measure!

To Podcast Or Not?

As a little experiment (and to help with my thinking on whether to do the occasional podcast for Water The Roots), you may also listen to me reading this blog post here (let me know what you think).


  1. David and family,

    Your garden looks great, what good pics of your place, you must be happy with your success! May you have many more great gardens. (Love the picture of Sequoia and her sister.)

    Ted & Robin

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