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Earthbound 

Two things happened last week: The weather turned and our rural electric company took down a pair of dead oak trees along a right of way.

These 50-foot-tall trees had recently dropped huge limbs on the roadway. They towered over power lines that served our neighborhood.

Winter is on no one's mind when they are going barefoot and still picking tomatoes.

That first frost warning is the wake-up call.

As neighbors, we all get along. Half of us still heat with wood.

All of a sudden, there was a lot of wood up for grabs. The frosty chill was on everyone's mind.

But whose wood was it? Believe me, no one starts a chainsaw in the forest out where we live without checking the borders. Property lines, corner markers, easements and surveyor's tape open huge conversations, as serious as they can get.

Years ago, I walked our property lines with two elderly next-door farmers. While our generation might quickly go to the Internet to print off plat maps as "proof," these men had no patience with surveyors and their fancy instruments. In their day, lines were marked with rocks and large stones. Field corners were marked with rock piles. Iron pipes were agreed upon and pounded into the ground.

Our road is named after one of my neighbor's fathers. So when we tromped through the woods and found the boulder the surveyor had missed years ago, I paid attention. He has since passed away, and his son is now our neighbor. We both know where that significant stone rests, buried under seasons of pine straw, deer beds and running cedar.

Those two dead trees had several cords of wood in them. All of us wanted to have at them. A rusty iron pipe was indeed found. The trees straddled lines, falling on three pieces of land.

It takes two points to make a line, but that second iron pipe could not be found. Following rusty fences and decades-old cedar posts, we had a pretty good idea. Time was taken to ensure no one felt rushed. Our families will live with each other for years to come.

Permission was granted and woodpiles all around have grown hardy and reassuring.

A long time ago, I found myself in the woods with another neighbor. He started calling me "mister" as if the tenor of our conversation was about to change. Developers had just bought 180 acres of forest, with streams and a pond, next door, and he knew changes were coming.

It's one thing to be walking the lines with someone you've shared a cup of coffee with, or fixed a well with, or needed a tractor pull for; it's another to be staring down a row of revving bulldozers.

"Well, let me just show you where my land is. One day I'll do the same with each of my daughters. But right now I want to show you," he calmly said as we trod the trails. Pointing out trees with hatchet marks, a history of multicolored survey flags on some of them, he uncovered several very specific iron pipes. He seemed confident and relieved.

Every so often I go out into those same woods, walking west, to see if I can find them again.

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