Cast and Crew

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Perfect Neighborhood, Part 1

Our neighborhood is the best. When you buy a house, they say that location is the most important thing to consider. But how do you test out that location without living there for a while? We spent a lot of time driving, walking, and riding buses in Everett before we narrowed down our possible areas, so we knew which important items on our list could be satisfied by each part of the community. North Everett won out over South Everett for its sidewalks, bus service, and sheer walkability to local amenities. But the mystery of finding the perfect block to live on can't be part of the above equation. Thus enters luck. Having neighbors you get along with is a product of this.

Our block (literally from one stop sign on the east end to the next stop sign on the west end) contains about fourteen houses. We know just about everyone after living there for two and a half years. Below is a description of events from last Sunday afternoon.

Rick, two houses down on our side of the street, has two daughters who spend time with him every other weekend. The younger, Emily, is about 9, the older is 14. Apparently they had been sneaking peeks of our chickens over the fence during their visits. We dropped off half a dozen eggs with Rick on Friday afternoon and invited him and his kids over to see the hens and chicks. Rick's girls got up and cooked those eggs for breakfast (a big surprise for their father), and were especially eager to visit the coop. When they walked into the yard, they caught sight of Ingrid first. She was foraging over by the compost, one of her usual haunts. We watched them scratch and peck and flap for a little while, then we toured the coop itself. Both girls were impressed with the nest boxes but slightly disappointed that no one had laid any eggs yet. I asked if they wanted to see the babies, and their eyes lit up. "You have baby chickens, too?" Emily asked. I took them into the garden shed and we stared into the brooder box, enthralled with the loud peeps from such tiny birds. Both girls were eager to hold the chicks but afraid to hurt them by gripping too tight (a common feeling when you're new to the baby chick gig), and they asked great questions about chickens in general. Emily apparently spoke of nothing but chicken facts for the rest of the day. Their parting gift was several small boxes of stale cheerios, which the new brood has enjoyed quite a bit.

This isn't the first time we've had kids over to visit the chickens. Co-workers, neighbors, and general acquaintances have stopped by with both of our broods to collect eggs, pet soft feathers, and inspect our coop made from recycled building materials. Our adventure is their adventure, too.

Stacy and Scott live next door to Rick. In combination with Rick and a few other members of the neighborhood, they're creating a garden in Rick's backyard. This is their second year, and they decided to plow up even more space for more plants. Last year they grew corn. I worried that they wouldn't get any ears of corn due to the fact that they planted a row, not a block. Corn pollinates with wind, so a block makes it easier for the pollen to transfer. I was so wrong. Aimee and I enjoyed several of their ears of corn. They weren't the biggest, but they were quite the achievement. This year they're planting corn, beets, leeks, potatoes, and bush beans. We're already bartering eggs for produce to come. Stacy and Scott frequently have people in the neighborhood hanging out in their front or back yards. They provide plenty of cheap beer, everyone else provides humor and company. We sat with them in the grass on Sunday. The weather was gorgeous and sunny. Scott wants to move to Montana, but his children live here in Washington. Both of them are reluctant to give up the neighborhood we share. We nodded and tipped our bottles back.

The neighbors on our block put together a couple of "events" each year. Halloween and the big summer yard sale are huge. Bonfires, beer, snacks, and great company round each ocassion out. The highlight is spending time with neighbors, who also happen to be really good friends. We watch each other's houses and pets, we nark on kids, and we band together to run out the drug-dealin'-no-good types. The combined efforts of this motley group rousted the final crack dealer from our street just last year. Bear in mind, there are four children under the age of six on this block. We want a clean place for them to grow up.

Donnie and Val live across the street from out house. Donnie is all talk. Honestly, some of the stuff that comes out of his mouth is downright ingenious in its fiction. Val, on the other hand, doesn't take his bs for more than a minute. Three of the chicks in our brooder box will be going to live at Donnie's house once they're big enough for the coop. He'll begin building it in the next few weekends, and he's been over to look at ours several times for inspiration. When we formed the idea of buying some chicks, his only request was for "perty, colorful birds." In fact, he really adored Ingrid, our Golden Campine. She's truly a beautiful bird, but her single comb and small body size make her a bit more work in cold weather. Instead, I settled on some hardy, friendly breeds that lay right through the coldest months. Donnie leaned over our fence while we were mulching the raised beds with chicken compost. "You addin' dirt?" I nodded and briefly explained mulch. Donnie asked about the potatoes growing in burlap sacks next. All of our garden veggies are in the front yard, like an edible landscape of sorts. He pointed at the onions left over from last year and marveled at their sheer size. I showed him the seed heads that were coming up. Before we finished, Donnie ran back to his house and retrieved a frozen bag of croppy he'd fished last summer, complete with a recommendation on how to fry them up for fish and chips. Last year he gave us venison. Donnie loves to hunt and fish. He also promised to bring home a ten foot long douglas fir beam from work for us. We've been gutting our upstairs and are ready to start the remodel. That beam will hopefully help restructure one of the windows which lacks a header.

Donnie and Val have been in their house longer than anyone on the block. They've seen a lot of trends come and go, and Donnie has a story about how he had a hand in every one of those changes. Val lends and borrows books with me. She doesn't seem to relate to many other people, so I try to be a good listener when she comes over. She's obsessed with Wicked and shares a kinship with Elphaba.

Brian and Jessica live next door to us. They're a young couple who bought a house about the same time we did, and they're recently married. Jessica is an elementary school teacher, and she's fascinated with all things science right now. She waved me over to her front yard just as Donnie was heading in for the night. A hoard of ants had flooded the sidewalk leading up to their front door. She felt bad about killing them, and she wanted to get video of the ants for her class. Donnie and I suggested she look on YouTube the next day, but today was a good day for spraying something noxious. Brian came out and handled the task. Jessica couldn't watch the slaughter. Instead, she leaned over our fence and talked to us about biology. "So my class set up these different environments with varying amounts of moisture to figure out what grows best in dry soil, moist soil, and really wet soil. But mold ended up growing in the wet stuff. Part of the lesson was about living versus non-living things, and the course book listed soil as non-living. One of the boys in the class asked me about it, and he reasoned that soil is actually alive. I told him I agreed. Was I right?" I spent a few minutes explaining that soil is a little bit of both, but that it's more alive than dead (so long as we're discussing natural soils). We then talked about the mold and bugs that appeared in the soil, even though it was bagged. She was very relieved when I explained that mold spores travel by air and that's how they get into bagged environments, and that some insect eggs and larvae are in the soil before you add moisture. The water brings them to life.

Brian and Jessica have turned out to be great friends, and we have a lot in common with them. Brian has helped me learn about fixing electrical problems in the house, and Jessica wrote an amazing children's story based on the great escape of Portia.

The goings-on of our neighborhood are constant entertainment to us, and we wouldn't trade this block for anything short of a real farm on acreage. Someday we will contemplate relocating for that very reason, but I know we'll be giving up this little bit of utopia.


  1. Isn`t it amazing how animals, especially farm critters, seem to draw children and adults alike!?

  2. sounds like you guys have some nice friends! We dont really fit in all that well were we are living. we are the only ones in our area that actually produce something besides grass on their land.

  3. You are very lucky to have such great neighbors that like your chickens and don't complain about them. Too bad more neighbors don't see the advantage and educational aspect for their children of having urban farms in their neighborhood.


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