Although I have lived in this neighbourhood for almost a decade, I have just gotten to know it over the past year. Until the pandemic put a fast and total stop to my work and other travel, I landed at home between trips long enough to do some laundry; work at home for a day or two; maybe see a movie; spend time with my partner, kids and grandkids, and see friends, usually over a meal.
I know only one set of neighbours, who live over the fence at the back of our yard, and those I know because we have friends in common. Had they been strangers over the fence when we moved in, they likely would still be strangers.
Before I started walking late last summer, I didn’t know where the best flower gardens were, which houses had the biggest lilac bushes or even the names of many of the streets in our neighbourhood. I had never walked to the grocery store or pharmacy; both of which are just a 15-minute stroll away.
I don’t say any of this with pride, but I managed to excuse my lack of interest in my ‘hood by claiming I wasn’t home long enough to be neighbourly and left such responsibilities to my partner. Because he is the resident gardener, he has gotten to know (and be known by) many neighbours and passersby, who often stop to admire his work and chat.
Testing our knowledge
Over the past year, while I still don’t know most of my neighbours by name, I exchange pleasantries with those who are out and about when I take my morning walk; have come to know who sits outside for an early morning smoke, regardless of the weather; who honours No Mow May, and who goes after their dandelions with the focus and precision of a military exercise. After the past two weeks, I also know where every lilac bush is in a 10-block radius from my house.
I am becoming a resident rather than a tourist in my neighbourhood. As Thanh-Thy Tiffany Tran wrote recently in The Guardian:
“I took a test. A fun test. Its overarching question: are you a tourist in your own home? Absolutely not, I thought. Almost three decades in Sydney makes me a local. But when I tried to answer the questions, I couldn’t pass.”
Until recently, that would have been me.
Tran then sets out a few of the questions that author and rewilding facilitator Claire Dunn uses in her workshops with city dwellers to “spark the desire to bring ourselves back to a more intimate way of knowing our place in the world.”
Intrigued by this notion of testing myself (and others) about our familiarity or lack thereof with our own communities, I adapted some of Dunn’s questions and added more of my own creation to create this quiz. I challenge you to take it and see if you know your neighbourhood as well as you think you do.
(I’ll post my own answers next week with some photos as proof.)
- What are the names of your immediate neighbours (next door and over the fence)?
- Have you had a conversation longer than five minutes with a neighbour in the past three months?
- Where is the closest tiny library to your house?
- Are there any clubs or organizations in your neighbourhood?
- If you walk in your neighbourhood, do you always take the same route or do you mix it up?
- Is there any street art in your ‘hood?
- Do you know the story behind the name of the street you live on?
- Do you ever visit a park or other green space in your neighbourhood?
- Do you know which houses on your block have dogs living in them?
- How many kids (under 12 years old) live on your block?
Trickles of hope
Every time we travel, we return home with rocks and stones. My partner picks them up wherever we go. It’s no big deal when we travel by car: we can always make room for natural treasures. But even trips that involve plane travel and weight limits are no deterrent to his fondness for rocks; he will happily load his carry-on backpack with them, even if he has to leave behind shoes and books to do so.
We found “The Face” in a garden store near Hamilton while we were visiting our grandsons there last spring and bought the ibis sculpture from a local artist a year ago, without knowing at the time exactly how we would use either of them. Now, thanks to a joint effort by my partner and his son, the sculptures, along with rocks and stones from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Gaspe, the north shore of Quebec, Mexico, Morocco, British Columbia and many, many spots in Ontario, surround the pond we have been wanting to build for several years. With flowers planted around all of that, we have a beautiful and soothing spot in our backyard, where we can listen to the trickle of water flowing into the pond while relaxing with a drink and a good book.
It’s hard not to feel hopeful and it’s easy to let the rest of the world slip away.