By Mary Lowengard
WHEN IT COMES to rules, I’m with General Douglas MacArthur. Not that “old soldiers” thing but rather his observation that rules are meant to be broken. Yes, he really said that. Look it up. Shocker, I know.
In Bucknoll, there are rules, and then there are capital-R rules in the form of capital-C Covenants, which calls to mind Raiders of the Lost Ark, snakes and how adorable Harrison Ford was a mere four decades ago.
There are also traditions ( à la Fiddler on the Roof), which may not be engraved in stone but are likely to earn one a stern look from the Bucknoll elders if you flout them, or worse, might make you the recipient of a dreaded Letter to You from the capital-C Company, the entity that reigns supreme over the Bucknoll Hills Association of Cottagers.
Covenants vs. Rules vs. Traditions
To clarify the distinction, capital-C Covenants begin with the two (or three) little words “Thou shalt” (or “Thou shalt not”). “Rules” start with Do’s or Don’ts. And traditions can be identified by the phrase “You really should (or should not).” That’s it in a nutshell.
But then, consider the Bucknoll time-honored tradition of Quiet Time, clearly a rule masquerading as a tradition. It seems simple enough: Between July 1 and Labor Day, there is to be no outdoor construction activity, or for that matter anything involving a power tool that creates “noise.” This puts the kibosh on your ability to re-roof your cottage or execute a landscaping project requiring a backhoe. Or having a fiddler on your roof, for that matter. But does this include blow-drying one’s hair on one’s front porch or blenderizing a batch of margaritas on the screened-in-deck?
There Are Exceptions to Every Rule
Indeed, there are exceptions associated with Quiet Time rules (proof that they are masquerading as a tradition; ever heard of a tradition exception? I certainly haven’t). Construction of totally new cottages is okay between 8am and 4:30pm. Work (i.e., noisy work) by the Company is likewise exempted. If your cottage happens to be a dump and otherwise uninhabitable, you can also raise a ruckus. And then there’s the catch-all, that the Board or the all-powerful Design Committee can authorize noisy work, circumventing Quiet Time.
Quiet Time is a great idea, until that very moment when you realize you absolutely, positively must power-wash your deck on August 10. Solution: Place the Ryobi 2000 PSI 1.2 GPM in your living room and run the hose out the door. Just be prepared to wash the living room floor when you’re done. I have yet to meet a power washer that doesn’t leak.
Truth be told, there’s an awful lot of non-construction noise that pierces the quietude of summer days and nights in Bucknoll. I ask you, if we put a man on the moon 50-plus years ago why hasn’t someone yet invented a silent leaf blower? Or for that matter, one that might double as a power washer? And might not be so dirty? The all-things-automotive company Edmunds tested the output of a two-stroke-engine leaf blower and found that 30 minutes of leaf redistribution spews hydrocarbon emissions equivalent to making approximately 22 round trips from New York City to Bucknoll in a 2011 Ford F-150 Raptor Pickup. And the noise level is about the same, too. So leave the truck home till after Labor Day.
Generators and Joy to the World
How about generators that run a test cycle every month for an hour, late-night deck parties involving adult beverages consumed by adults and teens alike, and those chirping cicadas? Their decibels have been recorded at levels as loud as Spinal Tap’s highest amp setting.
One year, bullfrogs took up residence in my pond, and would croak and ribbit all night long. Another summer, Woody Woodpecker, and his rat-a-tat-tat buddies drove me Looney Tunes rendering my alarm clock redundant. Whether it’s the whine of a power saw or the sounds of nature, it’s all noise to me.
One tradition I suspected might be a courtesy and not a rule or even a tradition turned out to be a full-fledged covenant. I was told in no uncertain terms the day I closed on my cottage that hanging laundry outdoors is strictly verboten. I’m not sure why or how this topic arose amid the flurry of document signing and calculation of the former owners’ final water bill. Perhaps I just have one of those faces that broadcast, “This Woman Plans to Hang Her Laundry Outdoors.”
Line-Drying Back in Vogue
I understand exactly why the Bucknoll forefathers enacted the anti-clothesline provision. Back in the day, having one’s unmentionables waving in the breeze was something people did in tenements, not bucolic country cottage settings. But times have changed. Saving money, saving the Earth and naturally sun-bleaching your linens are just three reasons line-drying is back in vogue. And it is easier on clothing fibers, which take a beating from the heat and tumbling in a dryer. (And, arguably, things smell even better than they do with Bounce Outdoor Fresh dryer sheets.)
The Bucknoll Covenants Article III, Section 3.8 prohibits clotheslines, or other exterior clothes-drying apparatuses. I confess to flagrantly violating this decree two or three times a year on hot summer days when I would set out a few recently laundered items on my string hammock. But then, griping about this in casual conversation with a member of the Board, I learned that Article III, Section 3.8 is located in Part IV Supporting Declaration III, which applies exclusively to the enclave within the Bucknoll enclave, a bunch of cottages built over by the golf courses, and not mine in the erstwhile “downtown” area of Bucknoll. I was free to hang as I so desired!
Good Fences, Good Neighbors? Phooey.
Meanwhile, had Robert Frost been a Bucknoller he never would have been in a position to wax poetic about all that good-fences-make-good-neighbors nonsense. A half-century ago fences didn’t exist in Bucknoll, according to a reliable local fence historian. They were considered “unfriendly.” Then, the deer arrived, transforming fraternity into frustration as hordes of herds appeared in the mid-1980s and chewed their way through . . . everything in sight. Up went the fences.
But you still must ask for permission to erect a fence on your property. That’s a rule. The dictates of the Design Committee demand prior approval for your barbed wire or electric fence or, for that matter, “privacy fences,” which can be any color so long as it’s black . . dark green or brown.
On the bright side, if you want to put up “protective” fencing over the winter to keep those ravenous deer out of your yard, that’s okay. Winter in Bucknoll officially starts on October 1 and runs until May 15.
Pigs Is Pigs Redux
In an illustration of life imitating art, there was a fracas several years back involving interpretation of the Bucknoll Covenant prohibiting “livestock” on cottager property. It hews closely to one of my favorite childhood tales, Pigs Is Pigs. (Heads up: Written by Ellis Parker Butler in 1905, the story deploys deplorably politically incorrect language not acceptable in polite society these days.)
Pigs Is Pigs is the story of a rather rule-bound railway agent named Mike Flannery, on duty when a shipment of two guinea pigs arrives. Flannery demands the recipient, Mr. Morehouse, pay the livestock rate instead of the lower charge for pets. Morehouse stalks off, the guinea pigs get down to making whoopie and soon enough the place is crawling with baby pigs—er, guinea pigs.
Ultimately, Flannery must retreat from his strict constructionist application of the code, and declares that henceforth “pigs is pets—an’ cows is pets—an’ horses is pets—an’ lions an’ tigers an’ Rocky Mountain goats is pets. . . . ”
Some 80 years later, the Printz family decided to indulge their preteen daughter with a flock of bantam chickens, creating a “pet residence” to house them in. Bantam chickens are mini-fowl, lay mini-eggs and are reputed to have a pleasing disposition. The neighbors had a cow, specifically about the foul odor and crowing that emanated in the early morning from what they considered a chicken coop, a hat trick of offenses invoking the prohibition against livestock, the “nuisance” clause and a clear violation of Quiet Time.
The Printzes sacrificed the roosters in order to placate the community, but it wasn’t enough. So off to the County Court of Common Pleas this uncommon plea was sent.
The lower court found that these bantam chickens were pets. By 2002, an appeal had made its way to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which overturned the pet ruling, pointing out that the Printz family did not transport these animals when they repaired to their coop in Manhattan, but rather left them in the care of a “regrettably named Mr. Fox” when not in residence at Bucknoll. While the Printz daughter was noted to have been “emotionally attached,” no argument appears to have been put forth that these were therapy chickens.
And just like that, Mr. Fox was no longer minding the hen house.
Bucknollers are still clucking over this story, which unlike an old soldier has yet to fade away. After all, as the American Caesar himself declared, “You will be remembered for the rules you broke.”
Mary Lowengard really did own a country cottage once upon a time somewhere in Pennsylvania. She changed names to protect the innocent, and thanks KW, JM, JAR and Woody, who made these stories possible. For the full story, click here.