Wednesday, April 14, 2010

MaryAnn, Our Neighbor

I was out touring our yard and cleaning up the branches from our rain garden this morning, because I couldn't resist.  Anyway, when I was done with the branches, I came back to the corner and looked around a bit.  To my surprise, I noticed our elderly neighbor came out her side door and walked toward me.  I said "hi" and thought she might have something to say to me, but all she wanted to do is fill her bird bath, which happens to be right on the other side of our fence, next to her birdhouse (which is frequently occupied by non-native sparrows).  So, I jumped in and introduced myself to her and try to make nice with her a bit.  That's how I learned her name was not Mary, as I thought, but MaryAnn - she corrected me.  She knew my name was "Bonnie", since that's how I introduced myself to her husband when we first moved in.  I also made an effort to shake her reluctant hand and smile.  It was a genuine smile, as I was pleased for the opportunity to finally speak directly with her after five years of living next door to her.  She remains indoors about 99% of the time.

After the niceties, I bravely asked her what she thinks of our yard.  I didn't want to assume she loathed it as much as her late husband, especially since I had her right there at my disposal.  She jumped in with a "no" and a slightly soured face.  "It looks like a buncha weeds - to me," she said.  She further explained that it's nice for "out in the country", waving her hand toward the west and looking out as she said this, but not here, right next to her "nice grass", meaning her own sterile landscape, which, unfortunately, is the norm in my neighborhood.  I bit my tongue, validated her opinion, and explained a bit about our Native Suburbia project and our goals.  Not surprisingly, she didn't care about natives or biodiversity or anything about our project's goals, because in her mind, this type of landscape simply does not belong in suburbia.  Old as she is, I'm not surprised that she couldn't be swayed on this point.

I maintained my polite and understanding demeanor with her, to keep the dialog open.  As a last ditch effort, I pulled out the big guns and asked her if she's noticed more hummingbirds and butterflies in the neighborhood.  Her face loosened up slightly.  I could tell she was surprised and intrigued.  No, she has not seen hummingbirds.  Her daughter, who does live in the country, gets hummingbirds and she's seen them there, but not here.  I informed her that we have several species of plants that attract them, and that we get lots of them each summer.   I told her to keep an eye out this summer for hummingbirds, as they love our hyssops and columbines.  I also asked her to notice the many butterflies that visit.  (I didn't even go into the milkweed/monarch symbiosis, as I thought that was too much for today.  Plus, I think hearing "weed" would throw her off.  What an unfortunate common name the milkweeds have for native plant awareness.  But I digress.)

As our brief conversation ended, I stepped away and tried to stay cordial, adding that I didn't want there to be any hard feelings between us. She could not confirm that this was the case, but at least she hesitated a bit so she wasn't completely a dick about it.  Besides, I'm hoping the relationship will soften while she ponders the conversation later, on her own.  I'm also hoping that every time she sees a butterfly or hummingbird, she'll think of our yard and how we made this possible for her.

I take this conversation as a win.  I didn't want to shut her down completely, because I knew that I could appeal to her, as a woman, by mentioning the undeniably beautiful points of interest in having a yard like ours - hummingbirds and butterflies - and hoped to rely on her avoidance of social awkwardness and requisite friendliness.  She's obviously been influenced by her late husband Ray, who, as you may recall, had nothing but harsh words for us and hatred for our River Birch tree.  And I assume that our tree is not dropping its branches in a strange pile 20 feet away from it in our rain garden all by itself; she or her relatives are most definitely behind this stupid behavior.  However, I am glad that she listened to what I had to say without cursing me out and being uncivilized, which is more than I can say of Ray.