Chewers trash in my ditch. When is it time to visit law enforcement?
January 17, 2022 6:46 AM   Subscribe

One of my neighbors left an anonymous note in my mailbox last Fall. Since I live on a dead-end street, I responded by writing a note of my own and leaving it in each of the 11 other mailboxes. The reason & sender of the note was revealed to me shortly thereafter & then I started finding tobacco chewers trash in my yard. I've been bagging it & tagging it & am wondering what folks here think about taking it to the cops.

The anonymous note was about all the ruts in our road & asked me to be a good neighbor and mow my ditch all the way to the road.

I live on a dirt road cul-de-sac. My home is the first one to be driven by when you turn onto the road. There is a moderately sized hill at first, and then the road levels off. My driveway is the only one on the hill.

Last Summer/Fall we had a lot of rain and water wold run down the hill making ruts. The ruts started way up the hill, far from my driveway. On my side of the road I had cut 'scallops' into the side of the road to direct runoff into my unmowed ditch.

The letter tried to equate me not mowing my ditch with the ruts which started up the hill. Made no sense. So when I got the letter I scanned it and wrote a letter of my own. It said something like this:

Greetings Neighbors ~
I received the following anonymous note in mailbox over the week and do not agree with it's assertions. I invite it's author call or pay me a visit to explain how me not mowing my ditch has created ruts in the road. Here's my number, email etc.

A couple days later "Tony" from up the road stopped by. He gets out of his truck and the first thing he says is, "We got your letter." I'm thinking "we?" He goes on to say that there's a group of neighbors who have been discussinig the issue, but it was Rich who left the note. He went on to say that the letter wasn't about the ruts. It was that they do not like the way my yard looks when you turn onto the dirt road. They like it better when the prior owner mowed the ditch and the 1-acre side yard which I am converting to native prairie. That prior owner who did all the mowing moved FOURTEEN YEARS AGO.

I walked Tony through my prairie and pointed out the flowers and grasses that I've been propogating and cultivating. He wasn't impressed. He said he gets butterfiles and birds just fine without planting native pollinator plants. I told him that I don't have the equipment to mow the ditch and it wold be dangerous for me to try & I do not intend to do it.

The next day I visited and order "Monarch Waystation" signs for the two telephone poles along the road in front of my house.

I should say that the ditch in question is really just overgrown turf grass with some clumps of Goldenrod and other native flowers. I'm slowly filling it with other native plants, but really haven't been in a hurry to do so. It's long grass & I'm fine with that.

ALL of the neighbors up the hill mow their yards all the way to the road. There are no ditches because it's flat.

About a month after Tony's visit I found a plastic bottle with tobacco spit tossed up into my yard, on the far side of the ditch, near my mailbox & quite a ways off the road. It had to have been tossed. It was curious, but it's not uncommon for things to blow around out in the country, so I picked it up and threw it away. And then a couple weeks later there was another bottle of tobacco spit. Now I'm pissed. I bagged it, wrote the date on it & have it in my pole barn.

Yesterday I found an empty tobacco chew container. Again, far off the road and tossed on the far side of my ditch. I bagged it & dated it.

It seems my upset neghbor or neighbors are now targeting my yard with their tobacco chewing trash. I've tossed around the idea of writing another letter to my 11 neighbors asking them to stop or maybe even sending a sample of the spit to and getting a dna test on it. I'm probably going to keep collecting it, tagging and bagging, but was wondering...

If you were me, when would you go to the cops?
posted by bricksNmortar to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would not go to the cops unless I feared for my physical safety. I can't imagine their involvement helping the situation; they're not going to take a littering complaint seriously, and if they did hassle your neighbors about it, it will only escalate the situation and make your neighbors hate you more.

Your best options for dealing with this is to either live your life and deal with having to pick up litter, or try to win over your neighbors and become friends with them. They're never going to appreciate your choice not to mow, but they might appreciate you baking them bread, knowing the names of their kids and asking about them, offering to help them shovel after a snowstorm, etc.
posted by metasarah at 7:13 AM on January 17 [16 favorites]

former dipper here. it's like smoking: some people have no courtesy, or are straight up aggressive about gettting rid of butts and trash. spit bottles are disgusting too.

the nonchalent discard of a butt onto the grass or sidewalk is like spitting in the planet's eye, revolting.

I can't imagine calling the cops for someone throwing a butt or cigarette box wrapper on the ground. i don't think they'd do anything about your spit bottles either.

maybe if you witness a dude throwing one out, you could walk it over to his place and ask nicely. bring a big friend.

I wouldn't worry about your yard so much if you are not actively in code violation. if you are, neighbors could report you repeatedly and that gets expensive fast. i planted a native grass and wildflower meadow in my yard once and had to cut it down to < 6" (us urban). it was over 3' tall and beautiful.

another reasonable explanation: it's not just your place, they're doing it everywhere. you just started noticing it.

try not to get too het up; people can be rage inducing, and giving it too much attention is not worth the psychic cost.

fwiw. i hope it gets better.
posted by j_curiouser at 7:16 AM on January 17 [16 favorites]

One piece of trash every couple weeks? You are wildly overreacting.

It does sound like your relationship with your neighbors isn’t the greatest regardless of who’s throwing stuff in your yard, and trying to get along should at least help people come to you directly vs. anonymous notes. It may be a long term project, you may not ever be friends, they probably won’t ever like your yard, but it will help you not get so mad at them (and they at you) if you know they like, dote on their pets and love snickerdoodles.
posted by momus_window at 7:36 AM on January 17 [21 favorites]

Yeah this is a situation I would aim to de-escalate. I would personally not call the police on my neighbors for all the reasons.

Whatever you do, know that you are doing an awesome thing with your yard. I love that you ordered signs. Anything you can do that reenforces the intentionality of the space is a great idea.

Also as far as neighborly relations go, if I got one letter from a neighbor I might respond to say "yup not me, love your yard and hope you win" BUT if I then got another letter with more details about the littering vs tall grass disagreement and DNA testing on the litter I would honestly be WTF levels annoyed and try to ignore the whole thing.

I am sorry your neighbors don't like butterfly habitats and at least one of them is a gross litterer. Sending you good butterfly vibes from here.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 7:38 AM on January 17 [16 favorites]

You know the whole serenity prayer thing about trying to accept serenity about things you can control? You cannot control this. You can accept it with as much grace as you can muster, or you can make a fuss and have the situation become so much worse. Try to focus on the positive aspects of your life and your land if possible. I live in an apartment complex where sometimes the kids rip up shit that gets blown onto my patio and you know what? It's just the price of admission. Nothing is perfect, especially humans. Sometimes that is a hard pill to swallow. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 8:00 AM on January 17 [5 favorites]

Install a camera of some sort? Or even a boxlike thing that looks like a camera?

I'm not the sort to try and make peace with someone like this because hey, what might they want next?

But a camera / proximity lighting (or even just solar powered lights to make things look pretty) might deter?

What they are doing though is very anti-social and if they are delivering the proof then I would certainly bag / date / keep as evidence useful some time in the future.
posted by I shot a fox in Skyrim and it made me sad at 8:04 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It ain’t worth escalating. Let it go.
posted by evilmonk at 8:14 AM on January 17 [16 favorites]

Agreeing that it isn't worth escalating - especially to the cops? What do you expect them to do?

If i really wanted to make the next move in a passive-aggressive way, I'd set up cameras to see who was dropping the containers. Then politely return them to the offender's front door with a note "Noticed you lost this - have a great day!"
posted by cgg at 8:28 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry but there's no way in the world to know for sure if the trash in your yard is coming from the person that is mad about the ditch or if it's just random trash in your yard. I think just chalking it up to a thing that happens to everyone is the best thing to do.

Moving forward, I think your energy would be much better spent on trying to make friends with one or two people on your block. Not everyone is going to want to hang out or whatever but just knowing people on a first name basis can make you feel a lot better about where you live.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:39 AM on January 17 [6 favorites]

Two things

One I would recommend mowing the ditch, if it’s a safety issue.

My uncle in law did not mow the uncovered drainage ditch in front of his semi rural house, as a result the tall grass hid the fact that it was a ditch and not level with the road or driveway, and my car dove into it when I tried to make a three point turn. Had to be towed out.

Two I think there is a massive cultural difference here. You: metafilter reader and butterfly meadow grower, then rural monoculture lawn maintainers who like chewing tobacco.

I suggest avoiding conflict with anyone who enjoys conflict more than you, and if I make an admittedly prejudiced guess about the lawn-mowing-chaw-spitting folk, they might like this conflict or even enjoy it.

If the ditch is a possible issue for cars, mow the ditch out of courtesy, and if a neighbor asks about meadow, say “I don’t ask you to do things to your lawn, so I’d appreciate if you return the favor.”
posted by sol at 8:46 AM on January 17 [12 favorites]

Is it possible to put up a fence?
posted by pinochiette at 9:24 AM on January 17

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your thoughtful responses.

I'm not one to escalate situations like this, so for now at least I'll continue to clear the trash as it shows up. Hopefully, there won't be anymore.
posted by bricksNmortar at 9:48 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would not call the cops over what has happened thus far. The police will not care about trash on the side of a dirt road, and your neighbors will not take kindly to you inviting law enforcement. (I would throw out the trash you’ve collected. Gross.)

I don’t know how Tony came across to you, but it was nice of him to approach you and tell the truth. It’s not about ruts in the road. It’s about your neighbors not liking that you don’t mow your lawn the way they mow theirs.

It’s insane to me, but where I live, LOTS of people in the rural areas spend massive amounts of time and fuel mowing acres of grass. It's the countryside—just let it grow natural! (Some mow so often, sometimes I can’t tell the difference between the just-mowed parts and the parts about to be mowed!) You letting your grass grow to a natural height is seen not just as a threat to their preferred aesthetic, but in a way it’s a threat to their chosen lifestyle.

Imagine if you chose to spend HOURS every week mowing grass. That’s how you live your life, and you justify all that time and machinery and fuel because you feel it’s worthy and worth it. And then the “new” guy next door just . . . doesn’t.

They don’t care about birds or butterfly signs. You’re ok with long grass, they are not. But who wants to face that existential challenge? So they complain about ruts and drainage. Visibility around a turn or something. They probably complain about lowered property values. Again, Tony was nice to tell you outright.

Now one of them who uses tobacco and has passive aggressive tendencies feels that you not mowing means you don’t care about the appearance or value of your property, so they throw their trash into your yard. What are you gonna do about it? Mow? I wouldn’t.

But I wouldn’t call the police, either. It would take major escalation before I'd do that. I think I’d pick up the trash and keep living my better life. I’d remind myself of the time, money, and environmental impact I’m saving NOT mowing my countryside yard. And I’d grit my teeth when I smile and wave at the neighbors driving by.
posted by cyclopticgaze at 9:53 AM on January 17 [9 favorites]

Focus on landscaping the area between the ditch and where your yard starts. Plant native, flowering shrubs that take up space so there is no need to mow and the view of your natural yard is obscured. People can't complain about what they can't see.

Consider planting a taller growing shrub that acts as a privacy hedge and makes it harder to toss things into your yard.
posted by brookeb at 11:38 AM on January 17 [9 favorites]

I would approach Tony and say, “You know, I was thinking about our convo and I really wanted to thank you. I think most people would have avoided being open about the situation but you went out of your way to be direct and honest and I really respect and appreciate that. So thank you!
And I wanted to ask your advice- I really like having native plants and pollinators. They’re good for the environment and I find them beautiful. And I don’t want to mow the ditch, it feels like a lot of work and also unsafe with the mower I have .... BUT I also want to have a good relationship with the neighbours. Do you have any suggestions for ways I can have both?”

And then brainstorm some solutions that work for both sides. Maybe add reflectors to mark the ditch? (I agree that a ditch hidden by vegetation is unsafe). Maybe mow just one strip beside the road? Maybe add a rose bush or something taller or some butterfly sculptures on spikes so the grasses look more artistic? Maybe there’s some solution that shows goodwill on your side and addresses whatever they’re all annoyed about.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:54 AM on January 17 [11 favorites]

Maybe a solar-powered security camera, that (if asked) you can say is to monitor the wildlife visiting your garden.
posted by essexjan at 1:34 PM on January 17

Just wanted to mention an issue with putting up a trail cam: the next problem will be “somebody stole my $200 trail cam!” A more-difficult alternative would be an always-connected IP cam (requires power/proximity/battery charging) in which case the problem might be “the cops won’t look for the guys that stole my IP camera, even though I have video of them!”

Having a decent relationship with your neighbors, even if they are marginally-reasonable asshats, is much better than a simmering feud. I’d go out of my way to maintain contact with the guy that stopped to talk to you, and I would throw out the trash—it will never be useful to you except as a method of treating your low blood pressure by raising it whenever your eyes light on it.

I like prairie grass, by the way. Good luck on your restoration.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 5:54 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]

I just want to stick up for rural grass mowers…in some areas this counts as creating “defensible space” if it gets dry and there is chance of wildfire. My parent’s home was saved due to mowing the meadow close to the house.

Last summer, it was so dry here and my neighbors have a wild front yard for pollinators and habitat. I took a long look and think from my front porch about whether the whole thing would burn up in a flash and then go out or if it would get big enough to damage or catch neighbor homes. I decided it would probably go out.

This really depends on where you are and the local environment. I’m sure your neighbor(s?) aren’t thinking of that and I’m sorry you’ve had this poor interaction. Hopefully you can keep going with improvements and continued outreach to the neighbors.
posted by amanda at 9:08 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]

Nthing camera. They can be secured from theft.
posted by Press Butt.on to Check at 5:37 AM on January 18

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