The Art of Good Neighboring in a World of Divide: A Story of a Tree, a Table & a Town that tasted Hope

There was once an Old Farmer I knew, the kind of man who, driving into the town compost site, noted an old and expansive walnut tree just over the town compost site’s embankment. 

Looking up into the gnarled limbs, many of them dying, the Old Farmer could see that the faithful walnut tree was nearing the end of its good life of giving good shade and good breath to the good people of the village.

The kind people who knew: You’re only going to love heaven if you love people who think differently than you. Because they’re going to be there too.

From where the Old Farmer stood, the girth of that tree was rooted squarely on town property, so he rang up the Town Office to ask the head of Public Works, Mr. Mills, about harvesting that massive ancient walnut tree into the possibility of lumber before it actually died.

“Well, to be honest, the town has no use of that tree,” Mr. Mills, the head of Public Works, decided. “If you want to harvest that tree, by all means, go ahead.”

It’s true: If you want the neighbourhood to harvest good things, find ways to yield with grace to each other through everything.

The very next day, in the golden warmth of an autumn afternoon, the neighbours reaped the beans off the field beside the town compost site, all the beans under the spreading canopy the walnut tree, so the Old Farmer thought no better time than today, before the snow flew, before the tree died, to harvest the ripe glory of that old walnut tree.

Neighbor

Neighbor

Neighbor

Neighbor

Neighbor

He thought about that, resting his hand long on the immense girth of the trunk, what the old Chinese proverb says: “No better time than twenty years ago to plant a tree, and the second best time is now.”

No better time than yesterday to plant some kindness, and the second best time is right this minute.
No better time than today to grow in grace, and the second best time is right this second, because it’s never too late to be like Jesus.

The Old Farmer looked up into the tree, closely studying its reaching branches, trying to determine the best way to lay his saw and bring that walnut tree back down to earth.

But just after the Old Farmer finally began to saw, the wind changed direction, blowing in from the east, threatening to down that tree out in the neighbour’s bean field, instead of down along the town’s compost site. So the Farmer positioned the loader of his tractor such that when he made the final cut stroke, it would push that wizened walnut tree down on town property.

Because the Old Farmer knew: When winds shift, shift your position till you have a vision of your mission.

It turned out that it was long after dark when the Old Farmer drove into the lumber mill up at Hollyrood with the walnut log, and Abram Martin, just finishing up supper,  he came out to admire the old tree: “My, would you look at that. And English Black Walnut is at an all time high right now.”

The Old Farmer smiled wide and grateful in the cool of the late fall evening.

But there was no way of knowing right then that the very next morning, the Old Farmer’s  phone would ring and he’d pick up only to hear, “Well. I think you’re in a whole lot of trouble.”

The Old Farmer waited for what came next. Embracing the wait, sitting with uncertainty, makes you friends with all kinds of possibility.

“Apparently you cut down a huge old tree — that wasn’t on town property — but on personal property.”

The Old Farmer slowly closed his eyes.

“Because Neil Gowing, he was in here at the town office this morning,” the phone cracked and broke up, but he could still make it out: “and Neil says that big English Black Walnut? Was growing on his property.”

When the Old Farmer called Neil, Neil was certain. “There are two anchor posts, one at the south, one at the north. Sight it up — and that walnut tree, I’d say was actually growing 90% on my property.”

Neighbor

Neighbor

Neighbor

Neighbor

This was the one thing the Farmer was actually certain of:

“I will do whatever I need to, to make this right.” What matters most is not that you are right, or that you look right, but that you love right.

So Neil Gowing and the Old Farmer, they agreed to meet at the Hollyrood Corner General Store and then drive on over together to Abram Martin’s lumber mill to take a look at the fallen walnut tree.

Standing in front of Hollyrood General, with its stack of feed buckets and wheelbarrows outside, and boasting of the best ice cream cones inside, Neil turned and offered, “You know, I think I would be satisfied with $2000 for that tree — and then we’d be squared away.”

Though Neil hadn’t yet seen the fell tree, and the Old Farmer didn’t definitively know what the tree was actually worth, the Old Farmer did definitely know that you’ve got to do whatever it takes to Iive at peace with a neighbour. When you put yourself in the place of your neighbour, you know your heart’s in the right place.

“Well, if you’d be happy with that, I’ll write you out a check for $2000 right now, Neil.” The Old Farmer rummaged in the glove compartment for a pen.

Neil nodded, the two neighbours shook hands, and the Old Farmer cut Neil Gowing a cheque for the English Black Walnut Tree cut down in the  the twighlight of its life.

After Neil pocketed the cheque in his wallet, the two neighbours drove on over to the lumber mill to pay their respects to the felled walnut tree now cut into two logs. When Abram Martin came out to see the men, they straight way took to telling the story of how a wrong assumption led to a man’s ancient tree getting cut right down.

“Oh.” Abram nervously smiled, wide-eyed. “So — how do we right things between you all as neighbours now?” You can only rightly love your neighbour when you can see where they feel wronged.

Neil waved his hand assuredly. “Honestly, he has already made everything right — but can you give us any idea what this walnut tree here is worth, Abram?”

So Abram brought out his ruled log scale to calculate what kind of lumber was in the tree, meticulously recording a tally of numbers down his notebook.

When Abram finally figured out the board feet in the log, he looked up at the two neighbours: “I’d say, for that log, considering what it’s worth, I’d give you — $2000.”

The two neighbours slowly broke into smile, knowing that’s already exactly what the two of them had settled on to clear the whole fiasco up. And Abram Martin cut a check to the Old Farmer for $2000, for a Black English Walnut tree that was straddling a boundary line at the town compost site.

And that Old Farmer, he had that English Black Walnut Tree, that had stood steady through generations of storms and generations of neighbours, that tree that had given good shade, and good breath, to the good people of the village, made into a 9-foot-long good table to gather together all the people who are all neighbors to each other.

Neighbor

Neighbor

And that Old Farmer, who is my never-that-old Dad, he gifted that table back to the town to set at the town hall,  for town council meetings, for generations of good neighbours to come. 

Because: All the good things in life are simply the hard things, that invited  grace to keep working  through all the things.

Because: Good fences make good neighbours, but good tables make great neighbours.

Because: There is always a way to make the troubles between neighbours into tables for neighbours.

Because: Making spaces for over—communication averts making wrong assumptions and makes for better understanding.

Because: A table between neighbours is worth more than any fence lines drawn between neighbours.

Because: Good neighbours happen wherever we are one.

Where you make a tree rooted in bitterness into a table set with kindness — is where you taste real hope.

 


In all these uncertain days, you can find yourself at a crossroads — and what you need to know is the way to abundance.

How do you find the way through uncertainty that lets you find certain peace, sure joy, real hope? ,

How can you afford to take any other way, especially in days like these?

The Way of Abundance is a gorgeous movement of 60 steps, 60 days, from heart-weary unknowns to Christ-focused abundance. No matter what happens, you can be in a different place this fall — an abundantly hopeful, peaceful place. 

In a hard year, don’t miss out on the gift of what can still be — and you can still become.