There are no sidewalks in my neighbourhood and that’s the way I like it. It is outside the city. I am not a person who is fond of concrete. I go for a walk around this neighbourhood almost every day. There is still an abundance of trees, including maple, oak, birch, spruce and majestic grand pines, some misshapen by hurricanes and other weather events, all naturally beautiful. In the summer, my neighborhood is green and in full bloom. In the winter it can be blue and crisp or white and grey. Autumn and spring are so full of colours and smells it can take my breath away. There is a lake and a river and subdivisions that have been built one house at a time. No two homes are alike and every yard is unique, each an expression of who the owners are.
I exit the house and turn right on my crescent to head towards the main road. There I turn left and quicken my pace because I like to walk fast. I also like to look around, see what is new. New siding or paint colours. New sheds. My neighbours’ shrubs and gardens, which are interesting all year long. Plus all the other personal details that define who they are. I am a bit nosey that way.
Just passed the half kilometer mark there is a house with it’s own rink. This rink is huge. It takes up a good portion of the front yard. Because where I live is rural, front yards can be a decent size. This rink stays up all year. It is built with four-foot-high plywood walls and has netting extending three times that height to catch stray pucks or street hockey balls. This rink has been well used and is not pretty. But I love this rink because it was built by a parent who wanted to make sure their kids had every opportunity to exercise and easily do what they were passionate about.
Skating and hockey are so Canadian but aren’t always accessible to all kids. Yes there is a lake in the neighbourhood but skating on it is rare because there is a strong current running through it, which can make it unsafe in places. And because the weather seldom offers the ideal circumstances of a long enough period of subfreezing temperatures without a major snowfall. The Doc and I love to skate on the lake but are lucky if it happens twice in a year.
Another thing I love about the front-yard rink is that this family also uses it to safely provide fresh air and exercise for their beautiful husky. The husky often stands on its hind legs, leans its front paws on the plywood and peeks over the boards at those passing by. Every time I go for my walk, I hope to see this dog because when I do I can’t help but smile.
As I continue my walking loop, which takes me back onto my crescent, I see a portable basketball hoop at the side of the road, the base weighted down with large rocks. A similar one lies tipped over at the edge of the road in front of a different house. I see a tarp-covered Winnebago in one driveway and several utility or small boat trailers off to the side of others, including ours. One neighbour has two wooden carved bears stationed on their front lawn. Another has turned their front yard into a garden of several wooden raised beds and a compost bin. There are two different tree forts in the corners of two different yards. What can be more inspiring than the idea of kids with tree forts? There are swings hanging from tree branches and kayaks hooked up under second-story decks. There are perfectly manicured yards next to others that tend to grow on the wild side. Christmas decorations still adorn certain houses and yards. Some lights will stay up all year. None of these things take away from the beauty of my neighborhood. In fact they add to it. They add character. They radiate tolerance. I consider these traits beautiful. Something to be proud of. When it comes to my neighbourhood, I love all of it.
The reason I love all of it is that these different things reflect the fact that my neighbourhood does not control its residents’ individual freedoms for the sake of curb appeal. How many news stories have we heard about personal ice rinks having to be dismantled because one neighbour didn’t like the look of it and complained to some board or official. I have read other news stories of subdivisions or condo units that didn’t allow residents to plant flower gardens. Those who did were forced to dig them up when new neighbours arrived and complained. There are places where so many rules have been created that everything needs to pretty much look identical in order to follow them. All this sounds very boring to me, not to mention judgemental. I am not proposing that there should be no rules or bylaws; I am just saying that in some cases, they have become petty, ineffective and divisive. They require people and residences to become clones of each other. They define their world in shades of taupe and grey, and they frown on personal expression.
My community does have an association. One that I do not belong to, again I personally don’t like structure or meetings. Mostly they plan events to bring the community together, like Easter egg hunts, Christmas-tree lighting gatherings and pickleball. They oversee a small park and an ice cream stand in the summer. This committee is populated by the same people who have tree forts and trailers in their yards. I hope it stays that way. I don’t want to suddenly feel the need to attend meetings. Given the state of the world: including pollution, climate change, consumerism and the fact that some of the most powerful and weaponized countries are run by divisive egomaniacs, there are more important things to get riled up about than your neighbour having a rink, a tarp-covered Winnebago or a raised garden in front of their house.
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