The Hedge Life

I recall sitting on the porch on our small place in the country we affectionately called our farm (though ants were the only thing that grew in the sandy, central Texas soil). The farm was my escape from the big city, where the lots were measured in feet, not acres, and the nearest neighbor was just two strides away. When not fighting with the ants or the yellow jackets, the solitude of the farm gave me comfort I could not replicate elsewhere.

That comfort was, unfortunately, broken on a regular basis by the cars and trucks rolling past on the county road. We were fortunate as many country homes are built along the road to limit the cost of building a long driveway. We had some space, which was good. The problem in our case was the space between us and the elevated road was strictly pasture. I tried planting trees. They died. I hired a guy to transplant existing trees from the wooded part of our property. Those trees were swarmed by the ants, and also died.

I don’t know why it bothered me to be laid bare to the world. Back in Houston we were friends with our neighbors and spent much of our time hanging out in our cul-de-sac (affectionately referred to as “the sack”). It likely didn’t help that someone passing by on that county road noticed we weren’t home and helped themselves to the custom trailer I had just finished by cutting the lock on the gate as well as the one on the trailer’s hitch.

Had we stayed in Texas I would have built a barn to block the view from the road and lend a little privacy to the situation—a true fortress of solitude, with ants. Instead, we sold the farm and our house in the sack and went to Costa Rica, where I was eventually required to put up a fence to protect against liability but still regularly lost battles with ants (in that case, columns of army ants which passed by for hours and, occasionally, invaded the house in search of scorpions, tarantulas and other things that –silently– go bump in the night).

Our old neighborhood in Houston had restrictions on what could be done with property. You could not, for example, use hot pink as the exterior paint color nor could you add a third story to your home and block the view of the sun for your immediate neighbors. You could, however, erect a tall fence in your backyard. Our backdoor neighbors did just that—creating an eight-foot-tall wood wall for the part of their yard adjacent to ours. Unfortunately, our lots weren’t lined up so some of our back fence remained at a normal height. Our neighbors behind their new wall made it clear that they did not care about our aesthetics or their choice in music which they routinely blasted loud enough to be heard a few blocks away.

Those neighbors, who I don’t miss, might have planted a hedge behind their wall but it was going to take years before it rose to the height of their new fence. That brings us back to our new neighborhood in Canada, where some have taken the notion of privacy to a level our old neighborhood’s architectural committee never would have approved by cultivating hedges anywhere from eight to fourteen-feet high along the sidewalk of their front yard.

Our new neighborhood, like all neighborhoods, has some streets with heavier traffic than others. I completely get the idea of those on the busiest streets cultivating a barrier against the noisy vehicular traffic. What I’m still trying to wrap my head around are the houses on side streets with almost no traffic where all but the roofs are hidden behind a wall of hedges.

This is not a quick project. There are not, to my knowledge, nurseries that sell twelve-foot-tall hedges in quantities sufficient to wrap the front, back and side lots of a house. You need some time to go this route. This is not so much a decision about greenery as it is a lifestyle choice.

I find myself curiously drawn to these houses — an attractive nuisance for my overactive imagination. What is going on back there? What are these people like? Do these hedges pre-date WWII?

I will likely never find answers to these questions as the people who reside behind these green walls are the ones not typically seen out and about. They appear on rare occasion when wrapped within a car but are otherwise cloaked within the privacy of the hedge life they have chosen.

There is no judgement here, just curiosity. Had I been able to grow a fourteen-foot wall of hedges back on our arid patch of land in Texas I surely would have done so (though I suspect that even with ample water this hedge wall would have been consumed by the ants). And so, I will watch, and wait, resisting the urge to push open a hole within these hedge walls to see what lays within.

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