treehouseI recently removed the play structure I’d built 16 years ago in our backyard. I remember wondering as I built it, “What will it feel like when I tear it down?” Well, it was kind of sad. Memories washed over me as I worked. Time perception isn’t linear.

I also tore down the tree house I’d built for my kids. Not only have they outgrown it, but it also wasn’t in our tree. Our neighbors had graciously given us permission to use their tree because we didn’t have one of our own. Luckily, Seattle’s building department has standing orders to ignore kid’s tree houses.

These same neighbors started a family last year. I was hoping the tree house would have a second life, but alas, they just moved to where life is better, where they can raise chickens and organic crops — maybe even their own biodiesel — by a stream in a forest. That’s right. They are off to find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

And if by chance they don’t find it, they will keep looking, mostly because they can, but also because happiness, as we all know, is just around the corner in communities filled with people who think and dress just like us. The vast majority of our peers moved on long ago. Your average American will move and change jobs about twelve times over a lifetime.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

It wasn’t until our next door neighbors had this child that they started to participate in things like block parties and plant exchanges. Walking about with a toddler stuck on your finger forces you to slow down for a while and to look around. I spent countless hours exploring our neighborhood with my young daughters. We knew where all the gold fish ponds and bunny hutches were. We knew where the snails liked to hang out on warm rainy days and watched bird nests for signs of hatchlings. You could always count on petting a cat or two. Unlike gated communities with covenants that dictate earth tone paint schemes and grass length, our neighborhood is diverse and interesting to look at, with no shortage of orange or even purple houses.

Just yesterday a guy came bounding down the sidewalk with a baby in a snuggly. As he walked past I asked if he was aware that he had a baby stuck on his shirt. Appreciating the joke, he played along and acted surprised to find one there. I expect I will see him and his toddler soon enough, feeding the fish in our pond as all the other parents with toddlers do (we leave a can of fish flakes out to attract them).

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.