Good Fences Make Good Neighbors: Part III

tulip-poplar-tree2Here’s the latest (and for now final) update on the back-and-forth with my neighbor about the humongous tree on their property that is at-risk of falling on our house.

After a Saturday morning walk with a wise friend who gave me good advice and a shot in the arm of courage, I call over to my neighbor’s house and “Bob” answers.

Elaine (as friendly-sounding as possible): Bob? Hi! This is Elaine, your neighbor.

Bob (in an unenthused monotone): Hello.

Elaine: Bob, are you and “Sally” free tomorrow morning around 11? I was wondering if you could come over for coffee so we can talk about the tree.

Bob: Are we around tomorrow morning around 11 am? (I hesitate because I don’t know why he’s repeating back my question. Then I realize he’s repeating it so his wife Sally – who must be close by – can hear the question and indicate her response to him.)

Bob: Yes, we’re around tomorrow morning.

Pause. I wonder was that an acceptance of the invitation for coffee or not. Clearly, I’m going to have to work harder to nail this down.

Elaine: So, does that mean you and Sally can come over for coffee at 11 am?

Bob: Can we go over for coffee? (Now, I’m on to the fact that Bob does not have a disorder that causes him to repeat things; he just needs Sally’s sign-off.)

Pause. I remain quiet. Pause continues. Finally …

Bob: Yes, we can come over.

Elaine: Great! (said with great animation and none of the frustration/anger I feel at this point.) See you tomorrow!

I go find my husband who’s watching some movie on cable for the zillionth time. I ask him to mute the TV and then, once there is silence, start crying. I sniffle and snort about the neighbors’ lack of responsiveness and apparent unwillingness to deal with this tree issue. “Clearly, our neighbors are a**holes who don’t care that their damn tree is going to kill my kids.” I conclude it’s a lost cause even before we have the conversation.

Coffee with the Neighbors

It’s 11:01 am on Sunday morning and Sally and Bob knock on the front door. (I had already figured out that I would give them until 11:30 before calling to remind them about coffee. I also worked up Plans C, D, and E for other non-cooperative behavior they might display.)

I pour coffee and bring out a plate of bagels. We start chatting about our respective lawns. After five minutes of small talk, Sally brings up the tree.

And … we end up having the nicest, most civilized neighborly conversation. Turns out that tree is one of Sally’s favorites, and she hopes there might be options for saving it. She wants to call another arborist for a second opinion. Bob wonders whether, if the tree must be removed, others could remove it for less than the quoted price of $4,000. All good questions to explore, I think. Then, Sally says the magic words that melt my resentment away: “Of course, safety is paramount. I couldn’t live with myself if that tree fell on to your kids’ bedrooms.”

Lessons Learned

I learned that Bob always speaks in a monotone, even when talking about his favorite football team. He’s just that type of guy.

I learned (or, was reminded) that 99% of life’s drama results NOT from actual conversations, but from the imagined conversations I have in my head.

I learned that, if something’s important to me, I have to chill out when others do not share that priority and just accept that it’s up to me to take steps to make something happen.

I learned that it’s not good fences, but good communication that makes good neighbors.


  • Kathleen Says:
    8-27-2009 06:55:39

    So glad it all worked out well for you! Now keep on top of them and make sure they actually DO something about the tree.

  • Stacy Says:
    8-27-2009 07:14:41

    I think you’ve been bamboozled by your neighbors!

  • Cindy L Says:
    8-27-2009 08:14:04

    Hooray! Glad it is working out, and hope it continues on this path. What you’ve written here is a testimony to the importance of face-to-face communication. We’ve lost that art in the age of text-messaging, e-mail, etc.

  • ann Says:
    8-27-2009 08:46:33

    maybe i am unrealistic but i felt so encouraged to read this. elaine, you really handled it so well despite your fears of a less-than-optimal outcome.

    i hope all will work out and that your neighbors and you and your spouse will be, well, “neighborly” if not friends.

    i suggest a friendly follow up (over the fence, in an email?) where you say how glad you were to have them over, get to know them better and that you wre so pleased that all of you had a reasonable follow-up plan. saying this, especially on paper, will confirm (and document) your discussion and agreement.

    keep friendly and do stay on top of things. and, stacy, if it turns out that elaine was bamboozled i will inflate my portable soapbox and stand on a prominent corner of my city and proclaim myself as a trusting idiot.


  • shane Says:
    8-27-2009 09:13:52

    Phew! I loved the updates and am so glad that it’s moving in the right direction. Nice work, Elaine!

  • Stacy Says:
    8-27-2009 18:44:58

    Ann, what city are you in? I’ll be looking for you! LOL!

  • Cindy H Says:
    8-28-2009 20:02:26

    Elaine, I think you two neighbors had a very productive meeting. I think it’s well worth exploring different companies for different prices. We had a big tree removed in our backyard this summer and the estimates were very divergent. We went with the middle bid, after checking out the company’s references, insurance, and reputation from the BBB.

    Good luck!

  • Sharon Says:
    8-28-2009 22:52:21

    Kudos all around- you all made the effort to find a solution. You’re on the right track. Let us know how things progress.

  • Elaine Says:
    9-1-2009 06:17:36

    Thanks, all! Your reactions to my neighborly dilemma have helped fuel my resolve. Despite the encouraging chat, it’s clear that I can’t simply sit back and wait for it to happen.

    After one week: no word ack from Sally or Bob. I will follow up to say how much I enjoyed our chat (good idea, ann!) and pass along the name of another tree company that was recommended to me. I’ve also decided that I will schedule the tree work for my yard (which doesn’t include the scary poplar tree) for mid-September … perhaps that timeline will jump start things.

  • Maya Says:
    9-2-2009 11:01:18

    Elaine–A very excellent three part series! I admire your diplomacy and patience. I’ve always been told that you attract more bees with honey than with vinegar, but I can’t always say I’ve heeded that advice. Still, glad that they seemed responsive in your face-to-face meeting. Maybe the other lesson learned is that more gets accomplished in person than by email. Why not walk over, knock on their door and hand them the name of the tree removal company and set a deadline together to have the issue resolved? I’ll refrain from making any jokes about “barking up the wrong tree” or extending an olive “branch” but it really is tempting!

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