Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I'll Trade You My Leaves for Your Fruit

Once a leaf falls from my tree, is it really my responsibility anymore? That is the question I find myself asking around this time each year. (Our leaves are still falling here in California. I know for you folks in the northeast that happens in late July, but we have mild weather here. There are earthquakes, though, and you don't want any of that nonsense, so stay where you are!)

Sure, that fallen leaf is only ten feet away on my neighbor's side of our connected front lawn, but where does it end? What if the wind blew it five blocks away? You can't expect me to chase it down and collect it then, can you? We have to draw the line somewhere, and in this case, there happens to be an actual property line. This is usually denoted by a fence, but in the case of our front yards, it’s denoted where the dead, patchy, multi-variety grass of my lawn gives way to the lush, green, homogenous grass of my neighbor's side. He’s an overachiever.

The offending (and offensive) tree I speak of is The Tree of Death. (I gave it that name because of how bad it smells in the spring. You can read more about that here: The Tree of Death, and Other Hilarious Stories) I didn’t plant the tree. It came with the house, and I really don’t even know or care what kind of tree it is. It’s really beautiful in November, as it turns from green to yellow and then bright orange and red, which almost makes up for its offensive springtime odor. Almost.

The tree and I get along fine in the summer and the dead of winter, but the late November start of the leaf drop brings me renewed feelings of malevolence toward my tree. Neither of our next-door neighbors have leaf-dropping trees in their front yards, so any leaves on their lawns are usually a direct result of my tree. This puts me in a strangely uncomfortable position, leaf-wise.

“Hi neighbor. Good breeze yesterday. I see you ended up with most of the leaves off my tree. You’re welcome!”

If we had fences it would be one thing, but it’s all out in the open in the front yards. What am I supposed to do? Stand under the tree with a Hefty bag and catch them all? I can’t rake every day. (Actually, I could rake every day, but let’s be serious.) Every time I walk outside and see my neighbor’s usually pristine lawn covered with my leaves, I get a slight twinge of guilt, and it makes me dislike that tree just a little more. Why couldn’t you have been a pine?

Speaking of fences, I think the rules on fence/tree ownership are fairly clear. If someone else’s tree hangs over your fence, you are responsible for all tree trimming and leaf collection on your side of the fence. In exchange for that annoying and unsolicited responsibility, you are entitled to any fruit on your side. Simple. Here’s the thing about my neighbors, though. They own fruit trees and I don’t. Fruit trees don’t drop nearly as many leaves as annoying “decorative” trees like The Tree of Death. Also, they do not own any annoying decorative trees that drop any leaves on my property. All the annoying ones are mine, front yard and back fence. So, the relationship is as follows: I give them leaves that they have to clean up, and they give me fruit.

That’s how the houses came when we both bought them, but I can’t help but feel a little guilty about the imbalance. It doesn’t help matters that my neighbor doesn’t really fully grasp the fruit rules, either. He thinks I am entitled to only the fruit that is hanging on my side of the fence, if we were to extend an imaginary fence line straight up in the air. I argue that I am obviously entitled to any fruit that I can reach without a ladder. I think he’s mad because we have sort of a short fence, and I can reach most of the lemon tree.

It’s not my fault I’m 6’-1”. I’m sorry you didn’t get that many lemons, but you should blame nature, or whoever built this fence. Or whoever left this stepstool here.

Speaking of feeling guilty, on an entirely different subject, I am a little fuzzy on proper neighbor etiquette when it comes to trash cans. Christmas is coming up, and with it the inevitable increase in trash volume caused by all the used wrapping paper, boxes, holiday cards, and whiskey bottles. The question is this: Is it OK to put trash in your neighbor’s can if yours is full and theirs isn’t?

If they weren’t going to use all the space, then what’s the harm, right? The trash company charges them the same amount to pick it up every week whether it’s full or not, right?

Now, let’s say you have a neighbor who almost never fills his trash can up all the way. Maybe he’s a neighbor who has fruit trees, hypothetically speaking. And what if you asked yourself a while ago, why do I need to pay for my own trash service if he never uses all of his can?

The question is, hypothetically, is it right for him to get mad and threaten to call the police if you have hypothetically cancelled your own trash service and are topping his trash can off for him every week?

I mean, what’s the big deal? Why should he be so concerned about my trash in his trash bin all of a sudden? His green waste bin is already full of my leaves! What’s the difference?

I don’t understand why he’s so grumpy. I think I’ll go have a nice tall glass of homemade lemonade and ponder that one for a while.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. Marc, Marc, we need to talk. You're starting to sound like a free-spirit, freelance writer. Let me help you, before you decide to embark on a "Healthcare Hitchhiking across Europe" blog!

  2. Now, wait just a second, Jon. Are you accusing me of going soft? Them's fightin' words, and normally, I would challenge you to a duel, but we don't have health insurance anymore...