Monday, November 21, 2005

The delusion of fences

"The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land,
said ‘This is mine,’ and found people naive enough
to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society"
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Out West — where my sense of place is firmly rooted — fences not only marked the edge of our land, but also bounded the more abstract real estate of safety, privacy and belonging. When I was very young, I believed a fence served only to keep something in, but by the time I could own a small piece of my own land, I understood it also served to keep things out.

Now I live in Southeast Texas, where no fence could repel Hurricane Rita. Now, almost two months after the storm, the meager perimeter-defense of my cedar-plank fence has finally been rebuilt. The edges of my property are again defined from within and without. After two months of a fabulously free life, my dog can venture no farther into the world — and the rest of that world can venture no closer than my padlocked gate without my invitation. Whether this pathetic wooden fence is a rampart or a cage, it doesn’t matter. It comforts me that it exists again. My ruined lawn, the wind-splayed rose garden, the greenish swimming pool, the few remaining leaf-stripped trees … they are all my private country again.

I have a colleague who shared a fence with a neighbor before Rita erased that particular divider between them. Now the rebuilding of the fence has become a bone of contention. Somebody called the cops, somebody else argued. After a weekend of angsting about what form a new barricade should take, my colleague settled on a “Love Thy Neighbor” theme. A worthy sentiment, indeed, at this time of year, and I can only imagine the message will be splashed in big letters … across the neighbor’s side of the fence. In neon paint.

I have crossed many boundaries in my life. Some international, some emotional, some merely lines in the sand, but almost always I did it willingly. So I’m not sure why it comforts me to be surrounded by fresh fences again. Maybe security? Maybe possessiveness? Maybe because what’s inside is mine, and what’s outside is an adventure. In this, I am just like my dog, who enjoyed immensely the freedom that comes from a fenceless world. A fence conundrum.

An old German proverb says: "A fence lasts three years, a dog lasts three fences, a horse lasts three dogs, and a man lasts three horses." Thanks to Hurricane Rita, my dog is on his second fence, and I am secure in my delusion (as Emerson would say) that a fence is something more than an easily destroyed row of planks.
“As long as our civilization is essentially one of property,
of fences, of exclusiveness, it will be mocked by delusions."
Ralph Waldo Emerson


Brandi said...

Thank you so much for stopping by my "newly born" project.

I love this entry. It is so great. I usually read many journals on AOL (where my "home" journal is) but none live as close or have any clue what it was (is) like for us.

I will be coming Back.


Doc Holliday said...

Hey thanks for stopping by..I'll make a link on my site to yours If you dont mind....


Mover Mike said...

Mover Mike commented on your post about fences re Robert Frost's poem Mending Fences

SingingSkies said...

An interesting commentary on fences. Got me to thinking about the fences I've experienced.

I've noticed that sometimes the fences in a community seem to say something about the people who live there - what they want to keep out or keep in, whether they desire to be visible or invisible, natural barricades or person-made blockades.

Where I live right now, it would feel like an affront to my neighbors if I were to put up a privacy fence. Yet I'm grateful that the fence I share with one neighbor is part privacy fence, because they have a really huge dog!

There is something welcoming about a chainlink fence that I can't quite put my finger on. It does let my dog see more of the world, while keeping her where I can find her. And no matter what kind of fence I have, there'd still be a place for the local opossum to come by and torment the poor dear!

I guess I'm at a point where I feel secure enough in myself to enjoy the visibility of a chainlink fence, while appreciating the security such a fence also provides (limited though it may be).

Hadn't realized that before. Thanks for prodding some introspection!