Thursday, January 01, 2009

Future Fences

January 1, 2009

Just after 4 PM and the wind has finally begun to tire. The Christmas wreaths on the west side of the house have finally stopped pounding the clapboards and the damper on the Vermont Castings stove has calmed its clink-clink-clink. The damper is tickled by chimney downdrafts that started yesterday as high pressure advanced here. This morning's -12 degrees was really three times as cold with winds above 25 mph. This morning, Karl the Wonder Dog set a world record for the least time outside in 2009, and I came in second.

Almost a month ago now we received a letter in the mail. It was postmarked from New Jersey and was a letter of introduction from Bob. He and his wife had just purchased a piece of land adjacent to ours and he was writing to let us know who he was and what their plans were. It was a friendly letter and not something you would expect any more. It was the kind of letter that Gail and I might write.

For some reason, Bob's letter triggered my fondness for Robert Frost poetry and my mind caught on the line from Mending Wall that I like "Good fences make good neighbors." This whole fence thing has always bothered me because our world has always had so many fences, literal and figurative fences, maybe too many fences, maybe not enough fences.

I have always liked looking at fences, especially when they are constructed of stone. I'm not alone in my favor. In New England each town still has a "fence viewer" position that is voted on at town meeting. I guess I haven't made it known that I like fences as I've never been considered for the position here in Marshfield. Any ho-o-o-w........

I spent earlier years with an old farmer named Warner who liked straight fences. To me at age six, a fence that kept the cows and horses in the pasture was a good fence but to him a fence should be straight and the wires should be taut . Frost's review and mine were more pragmatic. He asked: "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 offense." As a kid, keeping in animals was the concern, not keeping out neighbors, who I assumed were just that....neighborly.

Times have changed and I almost think there are fewer "good fences" than there used to be. It need not be that way but it is. The actual fence is a structural relationship with the people who live on either side. The "good fence" part doesn't necessarily mean that it's structural like Warner the farmer intended, but more that people have an understanding of each other and a respect for what each is doing. When expectations are clear, the fence serves better.

As we begin a new year, I hope all good gardeners will make like New England fence viewers and inspect their fences. Begin with the structural fences if you have them and insure they meet their intended purpose. Sometimes a coat of paint, the color of the paint on the fence you do not "see", a new strand of wire, a new board, three new nails, make all the difference. Then inspect the personal part of "good fences". If you don't know your neighbor yet, go meet them. If you know them but haven't seen them in a while, say hello. If you don't know what you're walling in or walling out, have that discussion. You might be surprised! The fences we build and maintain today are often carried on for generations. It's those good fences that really make good neighbors!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Gail undecorated the tree and Alex and I just pulled it outside. 9 feet of new bird feeder for the balance of the winter.

Happy New Year To All!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
Vermont Flower Farm


Susan Tomlinson said...

I confess to loving straight fences, too. I don't think of them in terms of "keeping things out or keeping things in" than I think of them as "framing a view"...

James Trundy said...

Finally catching up on George'e blog entries... such a nice way to start a 10 below morning:)

Nice to have the introductory note from your new neighbor.

I know that 6 years ago when we were buying our VT home, BEFORE we met the Realtor to see the property, we stopped and introduced ourselves to the neighbors on both sides.

We asked one specific question.. "do you know where the property lines are? AND are you happy with them?" They showed us the markers and were fine with everything.

Since then we have enjoyed GOOD neighbors and love being part of a village community. Especially now that the world is having such problems.

As, I look out at the snow, I am thankful for the conifers and birds and think about the hostas and daylilies sleeping beneath the blanket of snow.

Catalogues are arriving and wish lists being made:)

Thanks George for being part of our Winter!