More and more people kept coming in the door. For a Thanksgiving that wasn’t spent with family, it sure felt like family. Sitting around the rustic table, we raised a glass to fellow residents of Nederland and new friends. Chatter, shared experiences both good and bad, and memories of fun mountain times from long-time Nederlanders and new transplants were exchanged across the table. Such is the joy of bonding with your neighbors in a small mountain town.
It’s ironic that the smaller the town, the more spread out you are, the closer you are to your neighbors. In all the places I’ve lived (more than 22 of them), I’ve never felt closer and more dependent on my neighbors than our time spent here in Nederland. By contrast, as I look back on my many places of residence, I don’t think I ever felt so alone as when I lived in the middle of the city of San Francisco, occupying a studio on the top floor of a 6-story apartment building.
Despite living there for 3-4 years, I only made the acquaintance of one neighbor, and that was only because she needed someone to look in on her cat. I passed by people day after day, week after week, with not even a hello, much less a real conversation. There were times while living there, that I thought if I died, no one would find my body for three days.
It reminds me of a recent story I read in our local Mountain-Ear newspaper about a 92-year old woman who lives in nearby Rollinsville. As a summer resident, she was getting ready to leave the area for the winter and fell in an abandoned mine shaft, breaking her hip. Determined not to die there, she crawled using her hands and arms back to her nearby cabin. Within hours, two neighbors had stopped by, found her and gotten her emergency medical services. Seeing her car and the front door wide open, thinking that was peculiar, they had stopped by her place to see what was going on. Had it not been for her “good neighbors”, she likely would have died. Instead, she is on her way to a full recovery.
It wasn’t long after moving to our Nederland home, that I got to know our neighbors, mainly due to a wildfire in the area. Six weeks after we moved in, the Fourmile Canyon Wildfire burned nearby. As I walked the neighborhood with our dogs, the fire helped spark instant conversation. How people felt, what should you do, should you stay or go? I’ve found during our seven years, that crises frequently brings the neighborhood together — people instinctively are willing to help each other in any way they can. Saws and Slaws is a great example of the community helping folks to better mitigate their properties against wildfires.
Another common bond that promotes friendships and community is Nederland’s love affair with dogs. It’s a rare thing to meet someone who doesn’t have one, two or even three dogs. And since part of dog ownership is getting them out for a walk daily, what better way to get to know your neighbors and/or their four-legged friends? I joke that I know the dogs of the neighborhood before I know their owners — Mimi and TJ, the two goldens down the way, the two boxers in the corner home, Murphy and Luke, the lab and german shepherd across the street. Dogs force us to get out and about even in the worst of weather, and many a friendly conversation takes place over a doggie soiree in the middle of the road.
Nevertheless, I’ve found myself enjoying this new level of knowing the neighbors. Feeling connected and knowing someone cares and has my back, makes me feel I belong here. I have a feeling I’m not the only one…