Homeowner’s Association for Planet Earth?

Here is a funny story contributed by one of students:

A few years ago, our old neighbor put up a tasteful, unobtrusive, umbrella-type clothesline in his back yard. He erected it right next to the backyard fence that divided our property from his. The clothesline was invisible to the street. Not thinking we would mind, he decided to ask for our blessing since the clothesline would be in full view of our deck and yard. As our neighbor suspected, we did not mind in the least. In fact, his clothesline fit in nicely with our compost bin and chicken coop. The way we saw it, these rural amenities made our cookie cutter houses feel like home.

Of course, someone complained to the HOA, this being A Respectable Suburban Neighborhood, and all. So one afternoon, while my husband and I stood at the fence chatting with our neighbor about the blight on our squash vines and the wonders of fresh eggs, our neighbor’s doorbell rang. Our neighbor yelled, “Out in back.”
A man with a clipboard and digital camera walked into our neighbor’s yard. He made a beeline toward our neighbor and introduced himself without so much as acknowledging my husband or me. He was the HOA (Homeowner’s Association) Fun-sponge. The fun-sponge told our neighbor that someone had complained to the HOA about a clothesline in this yard. He verified our neighbor’s address and asked if there was a clothesline on the premesis. Our neighbor pointed to the clothesline that stood less than three hops from where we were all gathered.

“You mean that one?”

As if on cue, one of our chickens jumped the fence and roosted on the clothesline. Perfect timing. The fun-sponge cocked his head to one side for a moment, as if processing the image.

“What is that?”
“A clothesline.”
“No, on the clothesline.”
“Oh that. It’s a chicken.”
“Where did that come from?”

I couldn’t help myself. The answer just blurted out.
“It came from an egg.”

We and our neighbor were both “cited” for violating our HOA Deed Restrictions. Good thing the guy didn’t notice the other two chickens on our roof.

Just had to share.

Belen Audirsch
Suburbia, Pickastate, U.S.

=========

Many of us want to live in exclusive neighborhoods such as the one above, where exclusive indicates being removed from the natural world. Or at least giving the appearance of graciously controlling nature. Bel’s story is a great illustration of the outright folly of such designs.

But along with being funny, such homeowner’s association pacts are dangerous. One HOA pact in suburban Eugene mandates lawns that can only be maintained by the chemicals that the city’s stormwater committee asks its citizens not to use in a colorful postcard that begins, “Is your lawn pesticide free– maybe it should be”.

What is it taht causes some of us to prefer herbicides with their deadly consequences to the maligned dandelion– every part of which is edible and healthful. In fact, one way dandelions came to the Northwest is in the medicine bag of a pioneer doctor’s wife headed for Seattle.

We want exclusive golf courses with their perfect greens, but the herbicides used to maintain those killed a golfer a few years back. He was in the habit of licking his tee for good luck, and he keeled over dead mid-way through the course.

Here’s the bottom line: nature is us. And we can neither banish nor control it without taking ourselves off the planet.

So suppose we had homeowner’s association pacts for planet earth. What would they look like? Surely, they would allow us to take advantage of solar energy to dry our clothes. And they would allow us to cherish our dandelions along with our children’s future. The alternative consists of placing toxins in our homes that the European Union has found solid science to ban. All parents might want to check out this book released today:

http://www.poisonedprofits.com/

And wouldn’t you know it–as it we had wished for it, three days after we posted this, alternet posted this with some great info on how states and municipalities are protecting homeowners from anti-environment HOA regulations:

http://www.alternet.org/environment/94846/

Meanwhile, thanks for showing us how to laugh at ourselves, Bel. I can’t imagine anything healthier.

8 Responses

  1. Perhaps we could submit this as creative fodder to a show like Desperate Housewives. Or the Anti-Housewives? I am absolutely clueless when it comes to TV shows – never seen this one, and likely never will as I avoid TV like the plague. This aversion to the showcase of popular American culture coupled with my somewhat untraditional upbringing makes me feel like a foreign tourist to Bel’s suburban world.

    I thank her for sharing her warming and hilarious story, which confirms my hopes that behind those “cookie-cutter” facades there must be fellow nature-appreciatists who sympathize with my aversion to the oil-dependent world of endless bleach products, tupperware, and anti-bacterial handsoap, within which plastic mini-fish float against a label reading “Liquid Nature.”

    I’ve heard of these militant Neighborhood Associations, which sounded too fascist to be true – aren’t there laws against this sort of discrimination? Could we petition for the rights of clotheslines and chickens under Affirmative Action for Planet Earth? I cringe to think of the ramifications of such Thought Police-mentality, which must daily squelch hundreds of “dangerous” efforts to be self-sufficient, eco-friendly and sustainable consumers and home owners.

    Bel, what to do? Sign me up to volunteer for the guerrilla revolution. We shall conquer with spade and seed packets, real-cloth napkins and laundry-line lassos!

  2. What a novel idea. It all sounds so revolutionary to me. I submit that the federal and state bureaucratic structure is arbitrarily authoritarian and despositve under those set of facts.

  3. After all, what could be more revolutionary in every good sense of the word than choosing joyful community and a hopeful future? The lawyer who worked to shut down Trojan for decades once observed that the more top heavy an organization is (and also the less responsive to human and non-human life?) the more likely it is to topple.

  4. Unfortunately, these kinds of HOAs are far too common. They say how tall your house can be, they mandate how tall your grass can be, if you can plant or remove trees from your yard, how many handrails at what angles must be on your deck, etc.

    We acknowledge that the world is “ours” collectively, and also that our private property is “ours” in a smaller sense. These kinds of people consider the latter for themselves, but not for anyone else. They presume that because everybody else lives somewhere near your house, they have control over it.

    By the way, I particularly like the term “fun-sponge”. Accurate and hilarious!

  5. I just want to add a bit on the whole “exclusive neighborhood” thing. I just (as in 8 days ago) bought an Energy Star Certified home in Lancaster CA. These homes come with top of the line insulation, desert landscape with the drip system and solar panels for electricity. These homes were cheaper than any other new homes in the area by $50,000. I was so impressed by these homes that I purchased one on my first visit to the KB home site. There is also a neighborhood going in that is strictly solar, no electricity. I think this is an awesome example of how to make our homes and neighborhoods environmentally friendly and there are no HOAs so nobody can attempt to control nature. We will be reducing our economic footprint.

  6. Wonderful example of what we can do with the right ethics–and care! Thanks for sharing your good news. (I’m willing to be they aren’t financed by predatory mortgage loans either!)

  7. I find this story very humorous, and I am the treasurer of my homeowners association. HOAs are designed to ensure that a particular person does not ruin an entire neighborhood by failing to consider his surroundings. I live in a condo complex, and much of what our HOA does is spend time trying to encourage proper recycling, keep the grounds free of litter and other undesirable elements (read “dog poop”), and keep dues down. I hate to hear when HOAs go renegade and decide to become the town sheriffs, especially when it involves reducing the use of electricity or other consumables.

  8. Congratulations on contributing to the sense of community in your own HOA– I think this is the same sense of community that we need to assume responsibility for our shared earth.
    And for a totally different sense of an HOA (and development) see the comment just before yours.
    Thanks for your response!

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