Friendly Neighbours and Nearby Nature

The following submission appeared in “We Are Newton: A Neighbourhood Anthology.” See here for more information about the project.

By: Shannon Robinson

I’ve lived in a lot of communities throughout British Columbia. Newton will always be a standout in my memories. The most compelling aspects of this community are its diversity, the speed of its development and its unexpected quirks.

We chose our neighbourhood based on three things: safety/schools, commute time to work and the proximity to the border and beaches. We did not buy our dream house; it did not check all the boxes, but it is a beautiful well-built house in a great neighbourhood.

I remember the day we moved into our home. We were unloading the moving truck, directing boxes and furniture to the appropriate rooms and feeling nervous and excited about finally getting into our new home. The doorbell rang and when we answered the door, two very cute girls were standing on the steps. They said; “Hi, we noticed you have two boys. Do they want to come out and play?”

We had just moved from a community where we had lived for over a year and no kids had ever knocked on our door before, so of course, the lure of playing outside won over moving boxes and the boys disappeared. Moving into a new community where you don’t know your neighbours and you don’t have your bearings can be nerve wracking. So when I hadn’t seen my youngest (five years old) for a half hour, I quickly went outside to hunt him down. He was having a great time with the kids next door so I went back to unpacking.

A little while later I heard laughing, talking and the usual noise of children coming from our new backyard! I didn’t know where they all came from, but there were at least eight kids playing and running in and out of our yard. I was shocked to learn how many children were around, that they were so comfortable coming in and out of our space and how quickly our boys were absorbed into their world. Jumping forward four years, those kids are still ringing our doorbell, running in and out of our yard and are still a very big part of our happiness here.

When we have visitors from out of town, I always like to invite them to walk with me as I take the kids to school. I love to see their wide-eyed response to the ritual of getting to school. The sidewalks on both sides of the street are crowded with kids of all ages and their caregivers. Mothers and sons holding hands, brothers and sisters arguing over who made them late, grandmas fixing clothes and patting down stray hair, dads dropping off kids out front of the school and a wide assortment of bikes, scooters and boards weaving through the crowds. The diversity of clothes, ethnicity and language is astounding. It can be overwhelming to the senses. One big melting pot of culture all wrapped up and pouring into a new, and yet overcrowded, school.

My children have had the gift of an education in the regular curriculum but also in the incredible diversity of other cultures. They don’t see colour, race or religion, they see people. They choose friends based on values and interests. It is a beautiful thing to offer a child. In this community they have an opportunity to learn about culture, faith, religion and the world in a very natural and organic setting: their home and school.

Across from our house is an empty lot. The space is full of tall trees, rhododendrons, blackberry bushes, holly trees and the biggest assortment of mosses, ferns, wild grasses and weeds you can imagine. It is home to a racoon, a transient skunk, squirrels, woodpeckers and many other birds. It is also home to discarded shopping carts, dog poop bags, buckets of building materials and lots of other garbage thrown in and around the lot. I love it. Not the garbage, but I love the fact that there remains a piece of land that is undeveloped and unused. I walk through this tract of land almost every day. I love to pause and look up at the branches, to see the birds flying through the trees or to see the squirrels scampering up the tree trunks.

My most precious memory of this space happened last winter. I was walking through the lot at night, very dark, but I know the trail well enough to pick my way through without a light. It was a clear cold night and I could see the moon behind the treetops; it had the blue-black light of winter. Suddenly, something flew over my right shoulder and landed in the branch of the tall trees in front of me. It was a beautiful owl. It turned to look back at me and then stayed there, very still with those wise eyes and quiet dignity. I was permitted to walk under and then past this beautiful creature. Sometimes when I walk at night, I can hear an owl in the neighbourhood. But I have not been gifted with his presence again.

You wouldn’t think you could have this close encounter with wildlife and nature when our community continues to develop and grow at lightning speed, but you can if you look for it. When we have visitors, who come every three to six months, they are always shocked at how much has changed around us. Entire townhouse developments being built and sold out, stores opening and closing at staggering speeds and houses being bought and sold in a constant whir of change. I cling to this empty lot like a child to a blanket. It is my security and my sanctuary, and yet I know that one day it will be lost to me.

I do not know how long we will live here. I do know that it will be easy to remember the feel of this place. I will remember the speed of development, the diversity of people, the encounters with nature and wildlife, and the education my children have absorbed.

But if we left Newton, what I would miss most is the smells! Take a walk in this community around mealtime and you will be assaulted with smells of curry, barbecue, baking cookies and smells I am so desperate to know! I am guilty of sitting in my backyard taking deep breaths of the smells coming out of my neighbours’ vents. I know it is weird and feels invasive, but oh my God, the smells! I don’t know what my neighbours are cooking, but I want an invitation!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *