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There seems to be a lot of sabre-rattling in the world these days and it’s troubling because it’s not actually sabres that are being rattled: it’s ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads. I was thinking about this as I was mowing my lawn, which takes about three hours and so gives me lots of time for thinking. As I mow the pathway that connects my backyard to my neighbour’s, I think back to the creation of that path, I think about the relationship I have with my neighbour and I think still of the news of the day.
Between my house and my neighbour’s lies a tract of unused land covered in weeds, wild shrubs and trees, giving clear 20 or 30 yards of separation between our homes. The land belongs to my neighbour and he treats it with a kind of benign neglect: It is a little piece of wild woods between our neatly mowed and maintained properties. In my first summer in my home, I was out mowing one morning and decided to make access to my neighbour’s yard a little easier. With my garden machete, I cut through weeds and shrubs to create a path as far as the trees and then mowed it down to lawn level. Later that day, in true Canadian fashion, I wondered if that was really acceptable, as the land does belong to my neighbour, not to me. Shortly after that, I heard a gas-powered brush cutter at work up in the area that separates our yards. Going out later, I saw my neighbour had cut the rest of the passage through the trees, completing a convenient path from one back yard to the other.
For 25 years, my neighbour and I have used that path countless times, to our mutual benefit. We are completely different people. He has no university background, and university is almost all I have known. He knows how to survive in the woods with ease, and about the only thing I know about wilderness survival is that I should wait patiently for my neighbour to come and rescue me.
I have hauled my mower up to my neighbour’s shed numerous times for repairs, as he can fix any engine. He has often come down to seek my advice and counsel when he hits a rough patch in life. An alcoholic now over 20 years sober, he has leaned on me at times to ensure his journey through life stays sober. He has fixed my car, which I should note is a Kia Soul; so it can truly be said, I work on his soul and he works on mine.
We have delivered chocolate cake and cookies to my neighbour and he has delivered fiddleheads and apples to us. He keeps my motors running and at times, I keep him going. He’s a search-and-rescue volunteer and when search and rescue becomes search and recovery, he always comes down the path so I can do a debrief.
Sometimes, he talks a lot and sometimes I do, too, and we both also listen and learn. We are as different, as the British say, as chalk and cheese, but we walk the pathway into each other’s yards and into each other’s lives with all their challenges, fears, struggles and joys.
We talk, drink coffee, canoe and snowshoe together, and in many ways, look after each other.
After 25 years in my current university position, I was honoured (along with others who had achieved that chronological milestone). We received pins, plaques and a gift. Mine was a drill set, which amused my wife to no end, as I have no discernible abilities or interest in using a power tool. “What are you going to do with that?” she asked me. I gave it to my neighbour; he will get more use from it than I will and if I need a drill, I can always borrow it from him.
It has been an interesting relationship with my neighbour, but there has been one constant: the path. We use it when we need to and sometimes when we don’t. The path is always mowed, sometimes by me, sometimes by my neighbour and sometimes by us both. It is there year round. During the winter, it is plowed out for our mutual convenience, ease of access and as a metaphor of our relationship.
And so, as I was mowing recently, I was thinking of that path, mutually created and shared, and how it provides access for conversation and mutual assistance. I know it seems a little idealistic, but maybe the world needs more paths like that, not just between people but between countries. Instead of tweeting at each other and rattling sabres, maybe leaders could be speaking with each other and using their weapons to cut through brush and other things that divide – there is a biblical image about turning spears into pruning hooks, after all. I would like to see more pathways, both real and metaphorical, in the world; despite differences, countries might instead find some common ground, mutual support and ways to grow in kindness and care, nurturing the global community in which we live.
John C. Perkin lives in Sackville, N.B.