Claiming Our Territory
There’s something about our home construction project that attracts onlookers and draws them onto the building site, just like the Greek mythological sirens lured mariners to their rocky habitations.
Perhaps it’s a lingering of the sense of ownership that neighbors naturally assume with unoccupied property. Like many other animals, humans react to territorial cues. We normally wouldn’t scale a fence uninvited, or wander through a private yard without good cause. But a wooded lot that hasn’t been “claimed” in any tangible form is still fair game. We will harvest any berries that nature produces on the land, traverse any animal trail that avails itself to our size and ability, and covetously guard any “secret place” we may discover – a good climbing tree or a warm and sunny “thinking” rock or a hidden tangle of wild rhodies…
Our property was virtually impenetrable when we purchased it, except for the trails forged by lithe deer, portly raccoons and an assortment of other diminutive furry creatures. But there were signs of human activity around the perimeter, and our lot was probably a part of the neighborhood’s assumed “community property,” not having heretofore been “claimed.”
From the first day we unsheathed our machetes and hacked a path through the salal and up the hill into the scraggly pines, we drew visitors – both the two-legged and four-legged varieties. It didn’t take the latter visitors long to acknowledge that we were staking our claim, and to honor our territorial assertions. After a few jaunts through the felled trees, and later across the sandy clearing that a Caterpillar handily carved for our home, the obviously man-fed raccoons shifted to trails through the wooded lot to the west of ours, while the deer opted for the more protective tree line to our east.
The two-legged species, however, seem to have more complex rituals for acceptance of newcomers to the community. These rituals range from the man who saw us whacking the brush with our primitive tools and came over to offer us the loan of his gas-powered, rotary chain saw bladed brush cutter (we liked that “ritual”), to the man who appeared weeks later to survey the cleared site and to interrogate my husband as to the type of house we intended to construct. It seems he wanted assurances that our home would meet neighborhood (or at least his personal) standards. We didn’t find that “ritual” quite so endearing, but it was worth our short-lived chagrin to see the look on his face when my husband retorted that we were going to build the ugliest *blankety-blank* house that the building codes would allow.
Almost every time we go to the building site, someone from the neighborhood is either already there looking around, or else they show up when they see our vehicle. There’s the older woman who walks with a cane, for example, that we met coming out of our driveway. She flagged us to a stop and, without introducing herself, proceeded to inquire as to when we would have our steps built so she could get into the house to look around. Of course, for all I know, maybe the deer and raccoons are just hanging out on the periphery waiting for the same thing.
The other day I pulled into the drive, and two of our neighbors-to-be were standing in our garage-to-be inspecting the newly installed electrical panel box. The electricians had wired the house the day before, and I had come to sweep up the wood shaving left on the floor.
Before I made it to the back of the truck to pull out my implements of war, one neighbor piped up, “Have you got a broom in there?” I had two of them, in fact, and he and I made short work of the cleanup job I had been dreading, while the other neighbor cunningly engaged my young daughters in a game of “pick-up-the-wire-strippings-and-put-them-in-the-garbage-box.”
Right now, apparently, the structure that I view as my future home is seen by the neighborhood as an impersonal compilation of lumber, glass, and concrete. It won’t be until we “claim” the house with our individual choice of paint color, our own style of curtains in the windows, and our unique personal clutter in the garage that the territory will be truly ours. And then – well, I guess I’ll have to sweep the floors all by myself.
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