This past weekend was Memorial Day weekend. Like many people in the United States we celebrated the holiday by being outside. For the past five years we have lived in a house on a lake.
There are some nice things about living on a lake. If you want to get out of bed and take an early morning swim you don’t have to go anywhere to do it. Cruising around in a paddle boat can be relaxing and physically tiring at the same time. Our lake is too small for motorized boats, so no skiing.
However, there are some adjustments we have had to make to living on a lake. There is a very active residents association which does put some restrictions on the properties fronting the lake. A significant one for us, having a medium sized dog, is the prohibition on having a fence. In our case, living on the lake means abiding by rules that we have agreed upon such as agreeing to mow your grass clippings away from and not into the lake. Since we are at the end of the lake where everything collects we are appreciative of this rule. It is a microcosm of what it means to live in a democratic society as we live with some rules we don’t like and benefit from some others that may be inconvenient for our neighbors.
Probably the biggest adjustment for me, having moved from a house that has a very private back yard, is getting used to the fact that we have virtually no privacy in our back yard. As the yards all converge on the lake we are funneled together if we are outside on the lake. I can see clearly and completely a half dozen back yards from the chair in my living room in which I am writing this.
Robert Frost is often quoted as saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Frost said those words in the voice of a character in one of his poems. The irony is that, while many people have quoted Frost in support of the boundaries between us, the poem (Mending Wall) actually is questioning the need for artificial boundaries in our relationships. Frost seems to doubt that the New England reserve with which he grew up is really the best way to be a neighbor.
If you view the lake as an extension of our backyard then I share a backyard with the other 46 residents on the lake. It blurs the boundaries between our yard and theirs and between the privacy we normally would expect from one another. I really don’t know if good fences make good neighbors. I do know that living on a lake makes you cozy with your neighbors in a way that stretches my need for privacy sometimes. Occasionally, it draws me outdoors to enjoy the water. But sometimes, it pushes me inside, where I can enjoy the private quietude. Maybe water and walls make good neighbors – the ever negotiated balance between public and private in our lives.