The weather has been outrageously nice, and the magical healing properties of Mother Nature have been working their magic on everyone in the family. I granted myself the day off work* on Friday in order to bike to Boulder and meet an MMM reader for some hiking in the rocks at the edge of town. Next came “porch club”, a rotating series of parties in my neighborhood where I generally use up my entire week’s personal wine-drinking limit.
Today was a blur of leaves and sunshine, quite literally: Junior ‘stash learned the joy of making his Dad rake up 4-foot-tall piles of dry leaves in the middle of the road so he could get a long run at them on his bike and smash through at top speed while I took videos.
Times like this weekend remind me of the riches that are hidden in plain view within in most of our immediate neighborhoods. When you hang out with the people who live nearby, you end up with some surprising benefits. Just a few examples from recent memory:
Millions of Peaches, Peaches for Free:
Years ago, I helped one of the friendly older ladies of my neighborhood with some home renovation advice. As a way of thanking me, she encouraged me to help myself to peaches from the enormous and productive peach tree in her back yard. I did, and they were great. But the experience opened my eyes to the fact that there are actually peach trees all over this town! So towards the end of every summer, I visit her tree and bike through the other alleys around here, picking huge bags of fresh peaches which nobody else picks. Most of this tasty fruit just falls to the ground and rots away!
Giving the Finger to the Apple Embargo
Is it just me, or is there something weird going on with the apple supply in this country? The prices are ridiculous – it’s hard to pay less than $2 per pound or even $3.00 for organic apples at the grocery stores around here, even though it is apple season and we’re supposed to be rolling in them. Luckily, friendly neighbors have come to the rescue again, as there are several towering 60-year-old trees in the ‘hood, owned by people who I have helped out in the past. These folks cannot possibly use the approximately 1,000 pounds of apples the trees produce every second year, and guess who is happy to help out with the harvesting? I just hauled home a 20-pound bag this afternoon and, boy howdy**, are they the most delicious apples I’ve ever crunched.
The world’s best lawnmower
If you’ve ever read Muscle over Motor, you know I’m a big fan of the olde-fashioned Reel Mower for cutting the grass. I’ve used a relatively junky one for years, but this year I scored a dramatic upgrade from a surprising place: the trash bin area in the alley behind yet another neighbor’s house. This really good mower was being tossed simply because the low-quality steel handle had broken. After checking with the neighbor that they indeed did not want it, I brought it home, fired up the welder, and created a much stronger and more (cave)manly-looking handle for it. Since then, my mowing duties have been a breeze, and the mower itself draws many an envious eye from the other men on my street, who are still stuck sucking the fumes of their gasoline mowers and leaf blowers, the lawncare equivalent of a catheter and a bedpan.
Shortly after I renovated that mower, another nearby person disassembled an unwanted redwood deck, placing the still-good surface boards out by the street with a “free” sign. With several upcoming deck projects in my own plans, I loaded the ‘stash into my van and stacked it in my lumber storage area for use in the near future. Approximate value: $300.
Sharing and Bartering as if Money had never been Invented:
I’ve had the privilege of doing renovation work on at least five of the houses on my little block alone, and I couldn’t even tell you the number if you stretch the radius out a few more blocks. In several of these cases, the work has turned into a partnership or a trading of labor. “I’ll help you build your deck, and you can help me paint my house next week”, or “I’ll lend you my cement mixer, and maybe you can lend me your garden tiller in the spring”. The level of sharing has grown to be quite abundant, so now you see beer, wine, garden produce, honey, keys to houses, cars, trucks and remote cabins, children, and all sorts of advice and knowledge flowing between the households. All in an physical environment that can be traversed on foot within about five minutes, without the need to even put on your socks and shoes.
These bits of local trade enrich all the members of the community, and they are better than just the retail equivalent we could get down at the big-box stores, for several reasons. They come with trust and social connection – some of the greatest sources of happiness. They are immune to employment conditions or recession. And they let everyone produce value even in their free time outside of work, increasing their net income and savings rate without even realizing they are working.
It is little things like the stories above that make me happy to live in a city with many other people around, optimistic about the general prospects of our species as a whole, and happy to be retired so I have more time to take part in it all. For many of us working towards early retirement, getting in the habit of building connections in the neighborhood is like planting seeds for future wealth, and I recommend it highly!
Update: One reader pointed me to a new community website/iPhone App called inaturalist.org. (Free). You can take pictures of the natural highlights (including edible ones) of your own area, and they will be shared with other I Naturalists. This is just the type of effort I love to see people making, so I’ve installed the app on my own phone and will start adding some things around my own town. (It’s new, so I may be the first Colorado entry!)
* haha, joke.
** amusing oldschool dialect lifted from Jim Collins