Peace of mind is a social contract

  When it came time for me to buy a house, I purposely chose the Old Town neighborhood in Pocatello, Idaho, where I live and work. The neighborhood can be described as low-to-moderate income housing with many homes built as long as a century ago. I love the eclectic atmosphere of lived-in houses, each one individually designed and redesigned, no two alike, and I love trees. Pocatello's west side has some of the most beautiful maples, elms, poplars, locusts, hawthorns, black walnuts and box elders in town.

I have grass in my yard; I can't call my grass a lawn, but I manage to keep it mowed, pushing the jungle back to make room for my table and chairs, a green bower for me and my guests when a good glass of wine and conversation far past twilight is called for. These past four years, I've felt safe in my nest, but not long ago an incident rocked my confidence.

At 5 a.m. on a Saturday ,I was awakened by noise on my front porch, someone rattling the doorknob, obviously trying to get in. At first I thought it was my son, Edward, stopping by on his way to work, until I looked at the clock. Then came a tinkling crash, and the window in the door was shattered.

I got up to see a young man reaching through the broken window to unlock the door. I called 911 immediately for help and yelled at the intruder. "Who are you?" To my surprise, he answered, "Josh. I've come to hang out with you." The tall, rather good-looking young man with dark-rimmed glasses and long brown ponytail had no idea where he was, and he wasn't anybody I knew. He appeared, as they say, "stoned out of his mind."

He'd cut his hand on the glass and stood still, examining the blood closely; he then said, "Wow," in a long slow drawl reminiscent of a '60s hippie discovering the universe on acid. I ordered him to stay on the porch and wait for his "ride," and he did.

The police arrived and took him away while I filled out reports and swept up the glass. The bill for replacement, including molding and labor, came to $89, not a small assault on my budget, not to mention the hassle of the ruined peace of a precious Saturday morning.

The incident reminded me of just how vulnerable we all are. In so many ways, our houses are merely psychological barriers to those who might wish us harm.

I'm reminded of the years I helped raise cattle; how easily a several hundred-pound animal that is upset can break loose through a wooden or barbed wire fence, how cows really keep themselves fenced in, choosing to play by their human masters' rules as long as they are fed well, have fresh water to drink and are allowed to mate and raise their young in peace.

We are deluded if we believe our houses keep us safe; it's the unspoken social agreement we make with each other to respect certain boundaries that does the job. If someone wants to come after us, he or she will find a way no matter what fortress we erect.

Perhaps President Bush and Vice President Cheney and Attorney General John Ashcroft should consider this reality and work to develop different relationships with our "enemies," instead of agitating them further by calling them "evil doers" and "terrorists."

But then, perhaps, it's not really peace our leaders want; it's oil, and the construction of a pipeline through a far-off desert that will make a handful of corporate monkeys rich while the people living on the sidelines continue to spend part of every year in near starvation.

Still, I'll return to the privilege of sitting in my garden, where I can pull a segment of long grass to chew on, enjoy the peace its greenery gives me as well as savor my neighbors' respect for my house on my plot of land. The social contract we harbor internally also keeps passersby from destroying my little island of green - the contract "Josh" breached when he unwittingly crashed my peace of mind.

Penelope Reedy is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). She lives and writes in Pocatello, Idaho.

High Country News Classifieds
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Communications Associate Director Location: Flexible within the Western U.S., Durango, CO preferred Position reports to: Senior Communications Director The Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF)...
  • HISTORIC HOTEL & CAFE
    For Sale, 600k, Centennial Wyoming, 6 suites plus 2 bed, 2 bath apartment. www.themountainviewhotel.com Make this your home or buy a turn key hotel [email protected]
  • MAJOR GIFTS OFFICER
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Major Gifts Officer to join our...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    Basic Summary: The Vice President for Landscape Conservation is based in the Washington, D.C., headquarters and oversees Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing...
  • BRISTOL BAY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Seeking a program director responsible for developing and implementing all aspects of the Alaska Chapter's priority strategy for conservation in the Bristol Bay region of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The National Bighorn Sheep Center is looking for an Executive Director to take us forward into the new decade with continued strong leadership and vision:...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, based in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a new Executive Director with a passion for rural communities, water, and working lands....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.