Sunday, May 1, 2011


Robert Frost is one of my favorite poets. He wrote about the things that I love -- New England, nature, and simplicity -- and he wrote about them in a way that is timeless. Or maybe it feels timeless because I am living in a place where daily life operates pretty much the same as when Frost was writing. The objects that he wrote about are still used here for more than nostalgia or posterity.

I thought about one of his poems, "Mending Wall," a few days ago. This is the poem that has the line in it, "Good fences make good neighbors." When I was first discovering Frost's poetry back in school, I didn't understand this line. I saw fences only as divisions -- roadblocks -- obstacles that kept me out of a field that I wanted to cross. Now I understand why good fences make good neighbors. The key word there is "good."

For a fence to remain "good," it has to be tended. And a fence that separates one field from another belongs to both neighbors. There is only one fence -- not two fences running side-by-side. The responsibility of keeping the fence in good shape falls on both sides. Working together, the neighbors not only build their fence, but they also build their relationship. Thus, "good fences make good neighbors."

Every person's property in Shamgona is fenced-in. The fences vary in style and material, but not one yard or orchard or field is un-surrounded. Some fences are regular, old chain-link fences. Others are a step-up -- chain-link with a border of decorative metal along the top. Then there are corrugated metal fences -- not very pretty -- and some that look like picket-fences, but the slats are punched-out sheet metal pieces. Still other fences are made of thick, ornate, concrete posts set close together with a heavy rod connecting them all. All the metal and concrete fences are either painted or rusted; most of them are both. But my favorite fences here in the village are the ones made of wood. Sections of tree-banches or trunks are set into the ground at regular intervals. Some are strung with barbed wire, but others (and these are my favorite) are connected by long, slender, straight branches woven through the uprights creating an entire wall like a giant basket. Lovely.

What got me thinking about fences was one that I noticed while running the other day. It was a run-of-the-mill fence -- nothing special in its design. Sections of tree trunks and branches that were cut to length and put into the ground formed the vertical supports. I'm not even sure if the space was enclosed by wire or lengths of wood. What I did notice was that the fence was growing. Each vertical had sprouted a few new branches that shot skyward and had leafed-out some new, spring-green foliage. Instead of flat-topped posts forming a continuous line across the front of the field, the border looked more like a new tree-farm that had only one row of growth so far.

I wondered how fertile this ground must be to make fence posts sprout and grow. I wondered if the owner knew that this type of post would re-propogate itself this way. I wondered how long it would take for the fence to become a solid wall of trees. And I wondered if this fence would make its neighbors' relationship better. After all, now there will be some shade in which to relax together instead of mending the fences....

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