Topiary fit for a Wi-Fi signal

As the flora between them grew, she clipped a tunnel to access her neighbor's wireless Internet connection.

As neighbors go, Beverly is a keeper. When she decided to purchase a new car, her gently used Honda moved one driveway east, to me, at a bargain price. She not only shares her daily paper and trash barrel (without a word about the subscription and rural pickup fees), but food as well. I can still picture our black Lab trotting across the hayfield with a sealed package of frozen shrimp gently cradled in her jaws, compliments of Bev (who had already given the delivery dog her due treats). If she's running low on ice cream, she knows Charlie has helped himself to a dish – her freezer, unlike ours, keeps it solid, and he's ever welcome to walk over with scoop and bowl.

Granted, she benefits from our help with home repairs and maintenance of her bordering acres. And she places high value on the view of our pasture from her picture window, which often frames the Belgian and Percheron draft horses grazing, or the cows milling about in the summery dusk. But on the scale of neighborly beneficence, we still come out ahead in my mind.

She routinely prints out documents for me – I simply e-mail the text across the hayfield and later walk across to collect the fresh sheets from the shelf in her open foyer. For most of the year, I can even log on to the Web using the distant signal from her wireless Internet, saving me a monthly connection fee of my own. Between real visits, we e-mail often, sharing sightings of turkeys, coyotes, deer, and fawns. To enhance the link, Bev repositioned the modem in a window facing the one in the farmhouse I work behind.

But come summer, as the trees and hedges leaf out and the hay grows tall in the field between us, that link begins to weaken and occasionally fades away, even as our friendship flourishes. Dependent on Internet access for editing work, I tilt my laptop this way and that, prop it atop a book or box, even carry it out to a garden chair, giving the wireless card every opportunity to grab that thread, often to no avail. This year, I invested in a new wireless adaptor, which, alas, didn't improve things. Though sympathetic, Beverly couldn't get the magic box any closer to me than she already had.

I was beginning to accept that I'd have to invest in my own Internet service, but still had a couple of technology options up my sleeve – namely biceps and hands wielding hedge clippers. I waded through the knee-high hay one recent morning to tackle some invasive honeysuckle and wild grape vines wrapping around the young trees along the field's edge, and a couple of hours later regarded a new porthole through the greenery – right in line with the modem in the window. The signal leapt back to life, and though it sputters at times, I anticipate better service after the first cutting of the hay in mid-June.

My son Tim is slated to help Beverly rescreen her porch this week. Charlie needs to crawl up in her attic to discourage some squirrels from laying claim to a bedroom via the ceiling (after which he will surely dispatch a bowl of ice cream). I'll walk over soon with a new ream of paper for her printer.

In other words, all links are humming between us and our neighbor, even, for now, the most tenuous one, between our laptops.

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