"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Selfish Neighborliness (More Milk!)

At the Second Annual September Swap Meet and Cider Press last week, I met a really cool neighbor lady named M. She brought apples to press, and we made a trade of a bag of (my) raw alpaca fiber for a bunch of (her) canning jars. She also has goats and we talked about that. She also moved here from a city and we talked about that. All in all we spent about 45 minutes chatting and exchanged phone numbers at the end of our conversation, saying we would get together and make cheese sometime.

Day before yesterday, she called me up and said there had been a death in the family and she needed to travel out of state for the funeral. She was sorry to intrude on so new a friendship, but she didn't know anyone else who could milk her goats while she was gone. Having been in a similar situation - not a death in the family, but needing a goat-sitter who can milk - I know how tough it is to find someone you can trust to milk your goats right. Poor or incomplete milking can lead to mastitis, which can kill a goat or ruin her udder right quick.

Of course I said I would be happy to board her goats while she is gone. She has two goats, but only one in milk, a Saanen who is giving about a half-gallon a day. Those of you who raise goats know that this was a fairly big leap of faith, on both our parts. I don't know that her goats are healthy, and she doesn't know that mine are. She has never seen my place, and knows nothing about the state of my fencing or the quality of my feed. I don't know if her goats are jumpers who might destroy my fences and run out on the road and get killed. Without the goodwill and trust that comes with a long friendship, we are both taking a chance that something awful might happen - a sick or a dead goat - and that there would be bad feelings on both sides.

I know that many people would simply say "sorry, but no." While I understand the reasons that would lead them to refuse, I cannot agree with them. My feeling is that human relationships are ultimately more important than animals. It's true that I basically don't know this woman from Eve, and that we may never have a serious friendship, so what do I owe her, you might fairly ask? The answer is, I owe her nothing. Not a damn thing. She didn't offer to pay me, either, and in fact the idea never crossed my mind until just this second.

I'm doing this because it's plain and simple the right thing to do. Yeah, I will get the half-gallon of milk a day that her goat gives, and I'm thrilled about that, since my goats are close to to dry. That milk will most likely translate into three or four pounds of cheese. And I assume that I will get an "I.O.U." to squirrel away in case I ever need a goat-related favor. I also get to feel like a nice person. Don't worry, I'm not going to sprain my arm patting myself on the back for altruism. I'm getting my fair share here.

But I would do it anyway- if neither of the goats were in milk. It's just what neighbors do. I have moved from a place -Seattle- where I lived for fifteen years in the same house without knowing the names of more than a couple of my nearest neighbors to a place where I know everyone. I know their history, I know what grades their kids are in, I know if someone is ill or if someone is widowed. I know my neighbors because they sit in the pew in front of me at church, or check my groceries at the store, or teach my children in the second grade. If, back in Seattle, I had needed to fly off to a family member's funeral at a moment's notice, I wouldn't know who to ask to pick up my mail and feed my cat. Here, I have my choice of a half a dozen people.

The price of that luxury is BEING one of those people for my neighbors, too. You need someone to milk your goat? HELL yes. Want me to pick up your groceries while you are laid up with a broken arm? Yup. Visit your sick mother-in-law? Need some frozen casseroles while you are at home with your new baby? Help with your leaky roof? Yes, yes, and yes.

The truth is, for me at least, that doing these things isn't just a quid-pro-quo; it's a pleasure in and of itself. I adore being part of a community that depends on each other. It makes me very happy to be known as someone who can be counted on to provide a decent lunch, or a ride at a moment's notice, or a shoulder to cry on. I am damn proud of my dependability. And I feel extremely blessed to be part of a web of similar people.


Olive said...

You have a beautiful,kind soul Aimee. You are not at all selfish.

In my old age however, I have learned (sadly) that you can do too much for others at times. My husband has a heart of gold but a very direct manner (he is a German immigrant) who NEVER thinks about saying no to any request to help out a neighbour, but, should anything go wrong the so called friends drop you like a hot potato.

www.FarmLifeLessons.blogspot.com said...

In spite of any problems that might arise, it's always good to do good. The feeling it gives your heart is the best part of the "good" you can get, which improves your own health and mental state of existence. People will always do us wrong and we will do other people wrong, the bottom line is to keep going with the light-hearted, good-hearted approach and to not become bitter. Balance is good, buy you'll know when to say when it is too much, but being there for this kind of situation is incredible. Our ancestors had developed tight relationships with their neighbors; they were there to put out each other's fires, they were there to help care for each others sick livestock, they were there to barter with each other which made them all less dependant on outsiders and socializing was often a gathering at one of their homes once per month with someone playing the banjo, the harmonica, some spoons and maybe a fancy guitar. Keep reaching out. If you don't reach out, then we become shriveled like a prune and soon no one wants to be around us. It's good to be needed and to also be the one who is in need...that is what life is all about...our humanity. I'm so proud of you, we need more neighbors like you.


Debo said...

If only there were more people like you, the world might just be a better place.

Apple Jack Creek said...

This is how communities are built, and how 'newcomers' become part of the community.

I finally felt like I belonged here when a cattle farmer that I know (as in life long, multi-generational farmers with herds of cattle and fields of grain and hay, BIG farmers) asked if I'd stop in at a mutual friend's place and check on a newborn lamb - they were doing the chores while the mutual friends were on holiday and one of the sheep had unexpectedly lambed. My cattle-farming friends know cows but not sheep, and they know I have sheep so asked if I'd take a look. Of course I went over and checked (and all was well) ... it's what neighbours do, like you say.

But having someone ask me ... ME ... the rookie, the city born girl who has sheep and a couple of cows and still hasn't learned to put up a proper fence ... having a full-time-big-scale farmer ask ME to go check on a lamb ... that told me I belong here.

And it was way beyond awesome.

Belonging is the best thing. :)

Maven said...

I'll say it again...I wish we were neighbors.