Good fences make good neighbors

For almost 24 years we have had a wooden fence. In fact, just after we moved in, a neighbor down our block found a picket fence discarded in a northern suburb, picked it up in his truck, and gave it to us thinking our house had that kind of “pickety look.”

In fact, once we installed our gifted picket fence, we discovered it had 108 pickets, a sacred Buddhist and Hindu number, the number of beads on a Buddhist/ Hindu mala. This made us feel cosmically protected.

We have tried to maintain the fence, but we live in a very urban environment, very close to a public school. The pickets have been way too tempting for young boys to use as swords and other weapons of mass destruction. We have replaced innumerable pickets only ultimately supplying an army of middle schoolers with sturdy munitions.

The whole block has gone iron. Sometimes iron with pointed, menacing-looking stakes. We were the last hold outs—until today.

I have to admit that this new fence is actually liberating. It has opened up the space in front of the house especially because we were able to put a fence between our house and the building to the south, as well. This means we will be able to expand the garden without having to worry about stray dogs or marauding kids.

But I have always been a bit ambivalent about fences. There is something definitely to be said for open accessibility, especially because if someone really wants to get into your property, no fence will keep him/her out. And as Robert Frost says, “‘Before I built a wall I’d ask to know /What I was walling in or walling out,/And to whom I was like to give offence./Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,/ That wants it down.'”

Hmmm, more garden space… well, don’t want it down just yet….

Mending Wall by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”


This entry was posted in garden, neighborhood, poetry and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Good fences make good neighbors

  1. Jerome Bloom says:

    WHEN WE

    WERE FENCELESS

    AND HAD A

    FRONT GARDEN

    IT WAS NOT

    OTHERS

    BUT OUR

    OWN

    WHO WOULD

    GO DEEP FOR

    A PASS ONTO OVER

    TRAMPLING ALL

    UNDERFOOT

    ON A PATH

    TO

    CATCH

    ACTUALLY

    THE PICKET

    FENCE GIVER

    WANTED US

    TO PAINT IT

    WHITE TO

    COMPLETE

    THE JOB

    MUCH TO

    HIS AMUSMENT

    WE RESISTED

  2. First an answering machine and now this!

  3. Having lived for some years with people who didn’t “get” the concept of personal boundaries, I’ve become a fence lover. The idea that the other people aren’t barging in whenever they want, but must wait to be invited has become quite appealing to me. From Dirty Dancing – this is MY dance space, this is YOUR dance space.

    Fences can make for a lovely symbol, IMO.

  4. I fenced my yard primarily because I didn’t want the dogs running loose, and liked them out with me while I gardened. Now it mostly discourages the moose–but a 4′ fence certainly isn’t going to stop them if they have a reason to get to the other side. It’s the reflector stakes at the ends of the driveway that become swords (or light sabers.)

  5. isaac says:

    No way!!! Please email me more pictures. What’s next? A DOG????? 🙂

  6. It does look lovely. And the afternoon sunlight in the front makes it look not menacing at all — and no spikey posts on top.

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