It was nine o’clock on a hot July night. My neighborhood was quiet except for the hum of air conditioners. I was opening a window to check if it had cooled off enough to open up the house, when I spotted movement across the street.
In the shadows cast by a streetlight, I saw two of my neighbors slowly emptying buckets of water onto the roots of a spruce tree. I called to them from my patio. “What are you doing?”
“We’re watering the Bob tree,” one said. “It’s not going to make it much longer if we don’t.” They had to be right. I couldn’t remember the last time we’d had a substantial rainfall.
I hurried to the garage for my own buckets. Soon I was part of what turned into a five-person watering brigade. Back and forth we walked from the nearest outdoor spigot. The Bob and the Pat trees were in danger. They were not going to die on our watch.
I was still feeling a sense of loss over the deaths of two well-liked and respected neighbors. We had lost Bob in February and Pat in March. In April, on Earth Day, our community planted a tree in honor of each of them, trees generously donated by our builder, Jamie Wilcox.
Holding hands, we had formed a circle around each tree and shared memories of our neighbor. There was some laughter, there were some tears. Then we took turns shoveling the soil needed to complete the planting. It was a way of sharing grief, as well as a moment that celebrated our tight-knit neighborhood.
But by July, the heat and drought of the summer were taking a toll on the newly planted trees. No one wanted to stand by and watch them die. No one wanted the widow and widower to lose the living symbols of their loved ones.
So it was that the five of us carried bucket after bucket of water that hot night. We had let it go too long as it was. We would not wait any longer.
The next morning, we came up with a more practical solution. One of the trees was close enough to our clubhouse that it could be reached with a hose, so another neighbor lent us one. The other tree was much farther from the nearest source of water. That one would be watered with several hoses strung together and connected to the outdoor faucet of an unoccupied new home.
I am happy to report that both trees not only lived, but have thrived. This past Christmas we decorated them with lights, and we were cheered each time we saw them.
When I was buying my new home, I never gave much thought to my future neighbors. To be blunt, I didn’t think they would be very important to me.
After all, I had lived in Woodstock for 40 years. I had made and kept a lot of good friends. So expanding my social circle was not a consideration in choosing my home.
But I was very wrong. My neighbors have become tremendously important to me. I now count some of them among my closest friends. Others I do not see as often, but I enjoy their company when I do. Even those I only know by sight greet me with a friendly wave when our paths cross.
As it turns out, we are more than a neighborhood. In many ways, we are family.