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Looking out my Backdoor: Micro slice of a simple life in paradise


October 10, 2019

When one lives in a tiny community, little things can tend to balloon into huge importance.

When I say “small community,” I don’t mean a place numbered in four digits, where you might recognize a couple thousand through ordinary daily contact: That young man with the ponytail works at the glass repair shop, the woman with red hair and big glasses clerk at the IGA and that over-dressed couple walks around the park every day with their dog, Riley. A place where you might know 200 people fairly well and count 50 as friends.

Nope. I’m talking a community with a warm-body count averaging 20 or fewer on a daily basis. Oh, yes, one gets to know every person, quite well.

Flip side, my neighbors also get to know me! I try to keep this in mind.

The natural progression to this “getting-to-know” business goes like this. Oh, what wonderful nice neighbors. Except him. And she’s a total witch, know what I mean? One by one, warts and horns sprout.

My method of dealing with “getting to know you, getting to know all about you,” is to (yuck) ask myself, what is it within me that I react so strongly? When I put the focus on my own flaws, yours don’t seem so glaring. Mostly.

Eventually, tolerance, acceptance, respect and affection take over and I even forgive myself (sort of) for my critical, judgmental nature. Horns and warts are still there, but so are scars and wounds and nowadays, I find you kind of cute. I think this is normal small-town neighborly stuff.

What worries me to distraction is that I have seemingly detected, nay, suffered “a sea-change into something rich and strange”* in my attitude toward critter life, especially those two banes of my existence, squirrels and iguanas.

After harvesting my miniature corn field, I immediately replanted my last yellow kernels for a second crop. Three days later two-inch green spikes poked above the dirt. On the fourth day, the green spikes disappeared, leaving holes dug and paw prints.

I shrugged. A rather mild reaction.

In the afternoon, I spotted this same squirrel, her jaws locked onto an avocado, dragging the green globe across the patio to a “secure” area where she no doubt feasted. “Aw, isn’t she cute.”

This is the squirrel at whom I’ve cursed, pitched objects (missed) and chased with a broom.

Same story with iguanas although I cannot call them cute. I watch them gulp hibiscus flowers with aplomb and barely disguised affection. They need to eat too. Iguanas are my neighbors. Or maybe, it is that they let me be their neighbor.

I’m worried. I’m afraid this shift in my perspective is not normal.

Let me explain that I think a little critical judgment is necessary in everyday life. As is a bit of anger, wrath, and every other emotion, in moderation, mind you, in moderation. I might be accused of rationalization, but I think a full range of emotions keeps me healthier.

I worry when I suddenly display gushing affection for my former enemies. Iguanas and squirrels, I’m talking about. It is not healthy. Squirrel, who natters at me and teases me with impunity, I understand. She is cute. Definitely a rodent, but cute. Iguanas? Not so much.

See the big one atop the brick wall by my patio? Cute? I don’t think so. I have serious talks with him. He never bats an eyelid. If he spoke to me, and why not, he might say, “Who was here first, Gringa? Who owns the garden? Who owns the hibiscus? Who owns the tree? Who owns the corn?”

Oh, yes. I knew that. I had forgotten. Even the animals know my faults and flaunt them in my face. And, even in my garden of paradise, iguanas eat hibiscus flowers.

*”The Tempest,” William Shakespeare


Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem but spent most of her adult life out of state. She returned to see the Hi-Line with a perspective of delight. After several years back in Harlem, Ashton is seeking new experiences in Etzatlan, Mexico. Once a Montanan, always. Read Ashton’s essays and other work at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com/. Email [email protected]


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