Dear new neighbors,
I’ve never met any of you. If I did, I would be perfectly polite. Probably I’d even think you’re nice folks. But here’s what I hate about you.
For a hundred years and more, this was remote ranch country with widely scattered houses out of sight of one another. All it took to change that was one land sale: a developer looking to make a buck and some peo-ple who wanted to live in the country. Within a few days, a new road was bulldozed, some flat places were scraped out, and your new houses were hauled in and plopped down. You do realize you have destroyed the very thing you paid so much for, don’t you?
This isn’t ranch country anymore. Now, it’s a subdivision.
I hate how you’ve chosen to place your houses right along the crest of a hill. You have a great view up there, but have you considered winter’s blizzards? Summer’s lightning? Have you thought of how you dominate the landscape? I doubt I’m the only one annoyed, because your houses are visi-ble for miles in all directions. But I take it personally. No matter that you’re some distance away, you peer down into my ranch yard like a peeping Tom.
I hate to think of how much water you’ll be pumping for your newly laid sod and your non-native trees. I hate to think of all those septic systems scattered above the water table being filled by people used to a city sewer system where you flush it and forget it. How can that many new house-holds not affect our ground water?
And I’m really beginning to hate having to pick up your trash from the road ditches and unsnag it from the barbed wire fences. Oh, sure, I know you’re not actually throwing all that garbage out your car windows. Some of it has obviously blown down from your houses. Maybe in town no one can track your carelessness, but out here we know.
Besides the trash, I hate the other changes you’ve brought to the gravel road that goes past my place. It used to have little traffic. The county had to grade it only two or three times a year. But all the big machinery necessary to make your new driveways and install your new houses has turned the road into a washboard. And all you new people with your many trips to town have kept it that way. Now the county has to have the grader out here every month. It used to be a safe road, too. Now your cars whip down the center, over hills and around curves, as if you’ve never heard of loose gravel or deer or livestock in the road.
While we’re on the topic of livestock, I’d like you to remember that you’re the ones who wanted to move to the country. So don’t complain about the noise and the smell. Fences keep livestock from wandering onto your manicured lawns, so don’t tear out sections of fence and then whine about animals in your yard.
I’m still holding out hope that you’ll keep up the fence on your place, because fences are good things when you have dogs. You do still have dogs, don’t you? A ranch neighbor told me he’s given up trying to track down the owners anymore. "Shoot, shovel, and shut up" is his new motto. Now, I’m not going to shoot your dog. I don’t even shoot the coyotes around here. But I’m really starting to hate that tomcat who is attacking my chickens.
And what’s with all the lights? It’s starting to look like a Wal-Mart park-ing lot over there at night. Why did you move away from town if you’re afraid of the dark? I’m afraid that pretty soon all your house lights and porch lights and garage lights and yard lights will prevent me from being able to see the Milky Way or blot out the rare displays of the northern lights.
I’m afraid that I’ll never be able to forget you’re over there, day or night. I’ll never send this letter to you. What’s the point? You’re here, all set-tled in and happy with your new homes in what used to be the country. No doubt more will follow you.
I think that’s the thing I hate most about you.
This essay is taken by permission from Crazy Woman Creek: Women Rewrite the American West, published by Houghton Mifflin Co, edited by Linda Hasselstrom, Gaydell Collier and Nancy Curtis, and made available by Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org).
Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at firstname.lastname@example.org.