Good fences make good what now?

Some time last winter the fence at the back of our yard disappeared, leaving nothing between our yard and the yard of the neighbor behind us. Notice how this story starts with a very firm assertion of private property? It’s the nature of fences, I think. They bound where you are from where you aren’t. I’d like to say that I’m against fences. I feel like I should be, that fences impede the formation of community, of common interest. But if I said that I’d be lying, particularly since I spent a small portion of my afternoon yesterday talking with a fencing contractor about the logistics and material involved in rebuilding the lost fence. After a bit more than a year sans back fence I am looking forward to a fully enclosed yard.

Why am I so eager to finally bet the fence repaired? I’ll give you a guess, just one. Yes, the neighbors. I want to be neighborly, I want to believe in community, I want to not lock myself up in a walled property. I mean theoretically I want those things. Realistically I desperately want a fence because the neighbors are driving me nuts. It started with the dog. Smokey, the little yappy dog who obviously can’t recognize property boundaries without a fence. As far as Smokey is concerned, without a fence our yard is his yard, and he has every right to raise the alarm when we tread upon his territory. If it were just the dog, I might feel differently about our fence contractor. If it were just the dog I’d probably not look upon this man as a savior instead of just a craftsman.

It isn’t just the yappy dog who doesn’t recognize the privateness of this property. The neighbors too seem to feel there is no problem with their dog venturing across that invisible line. Not once in a year have I heard so much as a mumbled “sorry about that.” What’s more when I work in the garden one of the neighbor women seems to feel that because I have been polite and chatted with her across the invisible line that it is perfectly fine for her to come wandering over into our yard uninvited. Where she stays and talks and talks and talks while I’m working.

I am the child of hippies. I should appreciate these conversations. But I don’t. I want nothing more for her to shut up and leave me in peace to my digging, weeding, and planting. Recently her husband, previously the silent type, broke the ice and started chatting. After hearing all about his job, the cost of rebuilding the engine on his car, and about how his kids from a previous marriage are trouble makers, I’d had about as much community as I could take and suggested to B. that the time had come to stop talking about fixing the fence and actually call someone to do it.

At some philosophical level I feel bad about this. I feel bad for disliking my neighbors. I feel bad about being so petty that I care about the trespasses of a sweet little dog who doesn’t know better. But I crave solitude, I crave space, I crave a frame around my landscaping (which is my primary form of artistic expression right now). The truth is that I love living in a house rather than a crowded apartment building and I cherish my back yard (even though I hate the cult of the lawn, which plagues my relationship with the front yard).

I understand now that the saying “good fence make good neighbors” is an expression of individualism, a proclamation of our belief in the importance of private property. But when it comes right down to it I have to admit that I don’t have much of a communal nature. I grew up with privacy and isolation galore and it turns out that I’m not willing to give that up despite having moved to an urban (now more suburban) environment. I imagine this fence will transform the people living on the property behind us into very good neighbors indeed.


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