By Marissa Landrigan


Over the course of the past year, the final year of my twenties, many of my closest friends have become mothers. Which is to say, they have come to understand the design of their bodies as evolutionary miracles, capable of withstanding great pressure, change, eruption. The body as engine.

I now know there is a medicinal plant that can be used to treat next-door-neighbor blues. It’s called Fargesia, or clumping bamboo.

Some background: Readers of this column might remember that my neighbor and I are not on friendly terms. A couple of years ago, he piled a mountain of fill against my property line. I knew he didn’t have a permit for that much, so I blew the whistle. Town officials cracked down. He eventually groomed his jagged eyesore into a green mound.

I got used to the contour of his land. Less so the constant mowing of his new lawn, but what can you do? This is suburbia, and mowing is the soundtrack of Saturdays.

This spring, he got a dog. One day, my husband, peering out the window, said, “Uh-oh! They’re going to build a fence.”

I ran to the window. The fence guy moved up and down along the border of our properties explaining details we couldn’t hear. I felt dread.

“What if they put up one of those tacky plastic vinyl fences?” I said to my husband.

“Let’s wait and see,” he said, always the Zen one. “People live up here for the natural beauty. Hopefully they’ll use wood.”

I waited anxiously, craning my neck toward the window frequently. One Friday at noon, I returned from the market. My knees nearly buckled as I walked down the path toward my house.

“It can’t be!” an inner voice screamed. I picked up my step and sprinted to our deck.

There it was, encircling the perimeter of the green mound like a prison yard — a chain-link fence!

I felt as though I’d been kicked back to my childhood in urban Canarsie, circa 1970, with its small row houses hugged by menacing metal fences. The whole notion of having come so far from where I began quickly evaporated — I could not escape my past. It was right next door.

I moved to this mountain ridge five years ago because it was a way to have a piece of the country in a suburb near Manhattan.

My neighbor and I both live at the edge of acres of unspoiled woods. We both live in old farmhouses.

Residents here appreciate the rugged imperfections of inhabiting wild land; we chose not to live in double ranches in cul-de-sacs.

I understood that my neighbor wanted something fenced-in for his dog and kids, but chain-link fencing?

The next day, I was out in my perennial garden yanking weeds. This usually is a therapeutic way to exorcise demons, but I was inconsolable.

My husband and I have worked tirelessly for years to beautify our property — planting, laying paths, using old bricks and bluestone and building rock walls to resurrect what was a left-for-dead homestead. I looked at the neighbor’s ugly fence and wondered if it was all worth it.

Then my landscaper arrived to talk about a patio project. I knew he wasn’t a therapist or a hairdresser, but I had to tell my troubles to someone.

“Look! Look at that blight!” I cried, wiping a small tear from my eye.

“I have a lady who wants to get rid of lots of bamboo,” he said nonchalantly. “I could plant it all along the edge of your property and you wouldn’t see the fence.”


“Sure,” he said. “Let me know if you want it.”

“Oh, I want it.”

He returned two weeks later.

His workers built a 40-foot-long trench and planted 35-foot-tall clumping bamboo plants. In less than 45 minutes, my view of the fence was obliterated.

These tall, willowy trees were a wall of beauty and grace. The real miracle was that someone wanted these stunning plants off her property. We never could have afforded to buy this forest all at once.

I immediately began to feel better. It seems a bamboo fence was just what the doctor ordered.

I should have known this might happen.

I should have known those blissful days might end and nameless evenings of camp fires and star gazing would give way to a time with harsher edges.

I should have known that a love like this changes, and at some point, you’re forced to ask yourself what it is you love and why you stay.

Last week, several newspapers picked up the report from the U.N. announcing that the world’s urban population is about to surpass the rural total for the first time in history.

They say, on August 16, 2008, the shift will happen.

It’s not accurate.