Freedom to Roam

One of the weirdest things about where we live is our backyard. It’s “our” yard, and it isn’t.

We live on land owned by the Threefold Educational Foundation,* which includes commercial, residential, farm, and forest land, and several schools and the college, over 140 acres. The property is surrounded by developed suburbs.

So, while our yard has our toys, our lawn chairs, etc., it’s really not just a yard. It’s also a thoroughfare for the locals. The path bisecting our yard travels between the Waldorf school’s sports field, across the brook to the housing developments abutting the property, and through part of the college, all connecting with other paths and streets that lead to the Waldorf school, the eurythmy school, the Fellowship Community, and the co-op.

In the summer, the local day camp uses the path daily to go to the forest, farm, or the sports field, and they use the brook at the edge of the yard for water and mud play. In the autumn, the fire pit in our yard forms part of the Rumpelstiltskin scene in the Hallowe’en Lantern Walk. All during the school year, children use the path to get to the Waldorf school.

It took some getting used to, but really I think it’s kind of charming. We see lots of friends and neighbors, and feel socially connected to the whole community.

SillyBilly, however, has some issues with it. You see, he gets a little worried when strange kids come and play with his toys. He’s been known to bang on his bedroom window, looking down at the yard and yelling “NO!!!” at some wayward soul who he thinks is going to steal some precious thing. It’s been an opportunity to learn about sharing and generosity.

It’s also the way things are in many other countries, where undeveloped land, even if privately owned, is open for gentle usage by all and sundry. That right is even part of the Swedish constitution! It’s interesting to me that one reason that this right survives so strongly in the Nordic countries is that feudalism never took hold there, with the resulting enclosure of common land. Here in the US, individual property rights hold sway over any noble public right of use, though we do have extensive state and national park land.

The situation here certainly makes me think about property rights, and the meaning of ownership vs. stewardship. I grew up in California suburbia, where every backyard is firmly fenced or walled off. Good fences may make good neighbors in one sense, but really they tend to prevent real neighborliness in my experience. It still strikes me so oddly that on the East Coast it is quite normal for there to be no fences at all around homes, even in the relatively close quarters of suburbia. Then I think about privacy, and what that means, and whether it’s so important.

## A quick clarification: the photos above are not of TEF property . . . just some beautiful fences I found on Wikimedia Commons.

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*Check out their website: it’s all new and has lots of new photos and content!
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9 Comments

Filed under Family, life, Nature, Parenting, SillyBilly

9 responses to “Freedom to Roam

  1. You are so lucky to live in such a community!

  2. Interesting (and beautiful photos). While we don’t live in such a spot with such intentional communal land sharing, we do live in a neighborhood designed for people to be closer and not divided by fencing or big yards. We know our neighbors well, and just about every night all the kids play and the parents chat, sitting along she back shared alley and greenspace. Last night there were 5 families out chatting and playing together, many nights more. We are lucky, I think, to have that in the midwest.

    Now, if we could find this neighborhood spirit while surrounded by woods and trails and lots of land – THAT would be amazing. 🙂

    Now I’m off to visit all of your links in that post!

  3. Don’t get me started on our longtime dreams of true intentional community!

    It’s not quite what I would call “intentional community” here in the sense of cohousing, shared meals, communal maintenance of the property, etc. TEF owns and maintains all the land and buildings (though we do sometimes have gardening days), and we pay rent for our home. But there is certainly an intention on their part (check the TEF link for “Stewardship”) to make this a community.

    Denise: There is a cohousing community in Davis, CA that was created by simply knocking down the fences between the group’s backyards, and buying up adjoining houses as they became available. A nice way to create instant, “retrofit” community!

  4. I just finished looking at the website of the community where you live. You live in an amazing place! We live in a neighborhood with tall fences and it’s very hard to get to know the neighbors. I’ve lived in my house for a year now and the neighbors that I know, I’ve had to go and introduce myself to but they keep to themselves pretty much.

  5. And people get so cranky about “trespassers” because of liability. SUCH a litigious society…
    What an interesting lace to live! I would love a Waldorf community like that!

  6. Eve

    Sigh. Your post makes envy and desire ooze up inside me. How I’ve longed to live in a community similar to yours.

    We live in a place where everyone has fences. We bought our place when it was a huge tract of farm land; when we put up fences for the animals, we put in gates so that hoped-for neighboring children, along with our own, could share open access to properties up and down the road.

    Alas, when neighbors did move in, they screwed, wired, and nailed shut these gates, put in a gated community, and showed in no uncertain terms that they intended no intimacy. I feel that we’re living on 10 acres of some kind if idyllic compound through no intention of our own. It’s sad and it doesn’t feel normal at all.

  7. Hey my Jerome used to live in the c0-housing in Davis! We really long to live in an intentional community, we made the complete opposite move and ended up in the middle of nowhere-Alone! We are reassessing every other day. I love the open, community spaces at the Threefold Community, I would love it if sometime somebody strolled by and stopped to chat. We are so lonely here.

  8. I think my ideal would be a combination of cohousing community life on a large property. There are wonderful things about this area, but it’s certainly not rural. People and cars and things all around. As I type this, my view is of a two-story dormitory!

    I think it’s just a case of not appreciating what I have. I’m sure if I moved to Lisa Anne’s farm or Eve’s place, I’d become too lonely. I’d like to have room for some farm animals and gardens, but still have people around. Private space and community.

  9. Oh it looks beautiful. Not too far from us there is Earthsong (http://www.earthsong.org.nz/) which looks really amazing – I’ve met someone who lives there and just raves about it.

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