Ruminations on the back 40

December 6, 2012

By Pat Detmer

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According to the King County parcel map, it’s 49,733 square feet, only an acre and small change. It belongs to the city of Newcastle and is described as “drainage and open area,” but it’s more than that. Its meaning to us dwarfs its relative size because it abuts our backyard and those of the Good Neighbors to the North and South, and it’s why we bought the house in the first place.

It’s property that’s not ours, and yet by osmosis and proximity, it is. Let’s call it our “fakerage.”

When we moved from the Midwest to Bellevue 40 years ago, we were surprised by the notion of greenbelts since there were none on the Illinois prairies. We’d lived at the edge of small farm towns a few blocks from cornfields and hedgerows, so communing with nature took only desire, 10 minutes and a decent pair of boots. Now — as we watch the Pugetopolis population climb eastward and up the hills — we understand and appreciate the notion of green space in ways that we never did before.

Some Newcastle fakerage is flat, and some surrounds unbuildable mountaintops. Ours is a basin, and at the bottom of it there’s a seasonal pond. Frogs and ducks make noise and offspring there. Snakes and skinks slither out of it and find drier places to lay in wait — like our garage — because they clearly enjoy the excitement of being discovered. We’ve spotted bald eagles, green herons, pileated woodpeckers, and great horned owls. While sitting on our back deck, we’ve been surprised by passing families of deer and raccoons, and a bear once left a deposit of fresh scat near the bird feeders, confirming that not only do they do that in the woods, but they also do it along the periphery.

If you visit Google Earth (My advice: Don’t do it. It’s a fabulous time-suck like none other) and look down on Newcastle, you’ll see that more than half of us either edge up to fakerage or live within sight of it. My niece and nephew’s fakerage is a cliff that drops at the end of their deck. Dana the Cartoonist has one that wraps his house in a half-embrace.

I write this in early in November, and can now faintly see the homes on the other side through naked branches. The greatest upside to having acreage that’s not yours? You don’t have to rake the leaves.


You can reach Pat Detmer, who considers herself the Japanese Knotweed Sheriff of her fakerage, at


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