I live in a rural area near a small town in California surrounded by vineyards, pastureland and oak covered hills with pine trees running up to the higher elevations. Neighbors look out for each other, but keep a respectful distance. It’s nice like that. Streams wind their way like snakes through the picturesque terrain. In the hot summer months the creek beds continue to wind their way, but without the water.
It’s been a peaceful place, even in spite of one unreasonable neighbor. I’ll call him Frank. He lives alone on a few acres, a long ‘stones throw’ from the land I’m on. We share a small common road in, which becomes a dirt road, turning off to the right onto his property, but continuing further on to the end where I live. Frank has had a problem with his temper for years and asserts it as a means of controlling those around him. His unpredictability is quite predictable, but still somewhat disconcerting. I’ve had a couple of run-ins with him when he’s threatened me pretty aggressively. I stood my ground, confronted his BS and refused to energize it, but, like most bullies, it would only anger him more. He’s pretty scary when he puffs up with the veins popping out of his neck. Built like a fireplug. Blows like one when it’s unplugged. He looks to intimidate. Looks for submission to his moods. He does not get that from me. I will not accommodate it. Fortunately I only see him a couple of times a month. Everybody in this area has had similar experiences with him over the years. Every community seems to have a guy like him. The Sheriff knows him well. Has yet to actually follow through with a threat. That’s the good thing.
Frank’s brother, Will, lives on the acreage between Frank and me. A few days ago Will’s property caught fire while he was away. A compost pile internally combusted, and in the high wind the fire began spreading rapidly towards the house. I smelled it before seeing it. I immediately got on the phone to Fire Dispatch, informing them of the situation. Everything is bone dry around here, and with the high wind this was a serious situation. I pounded on the doors and windows to make sure no one was in the house. Frank came running over from his adjacent property, saw me, and immediately began yelling at me like a maniac. It seems to be his immediate reaction to almost anything. He grabbed a hose and began working on the fire while I pointed out the new hot spots as the wind whipped the flames about like feathers in front of a fan. I continued to direct the Fire Department to the scene. They arrived, finished getting the fire under control, and then soaked the property until satisfied that it no longer posed a threat.
Frank came over to me, thanked me for helping to save not only his brothers property, but quite likely his own. He apologized for yelling at, and threatening, me in the past. Offered a handshake. Said he was in counseling now to deal with the root causes of his anger. I shook his hand, accepted his apology, but told him I would continue to keep a reasonable distance until I felt comfortable that he had the issue under control. After all, it was only just a few minutes ago that he most recently displayed his rage.
I walked back home, confident that I had handled the situation well. I was reminded again, by this turn of events, that communities, individuals, are only an emergency away from getting along with one another, from working together, and from disregarding differences. If even for just a short while.
The next day Will came home. He’s been pretty estranged from Frank for years. I told him of his brother’s apology. He said “don’t take it too seriously, Frank pulls the apology thing out periodically. It can’t be trusted.” I was sad to hear that. But I think I knew it at the time.
Maybe what we need are more emergencies.