Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Robert Frost writes of how good fences make good neighbors in his poem “Mending Wall.” The phrase has come to mind quite often over the last several months. First when we replaced the fence on our north side, where the dogs jumped repeatedly into the neighbors’ yard. The fence was at least 15 years old, there were 5 different kinds of wire throughout, and on a 200 foot span of fence, only 6 posts held it up. The rest was held up by vines. Friends and neighbors came to help us get that fence line up. Then the dogs found another weak spot in the pre-existing barbed wire fence on the east side of our yard. They jumped through three days in a row, then every other day, for several weeks. I had enough of it so I went out on my own and sunk three posts in one day. Neighbors came to help us pull that fence over the weekend. It kept the dogs in for half a day before they found another weak spot.

Today they went through our south fence – barbed wire that was strung before we moved here. They chased the cows for 20 minutes, running laps. The neighbors on the north side came to help me herd them in while Little Monster and Little Miss stayed in our yard and looked after one another. The neighbor to our south was sure to tell me, as I was chasing my dog, ‘that’s the kind of dog that will kill a calf,’ and ‘I’ve shot dogs like that before for killing a cow.’ When we finally rounded up our dogs and got them inside I thanked our north side neighbors profusely for helping me out. It was he who ended up getting our girl.

Good fences make good neighbors. But so can bad fences. After the morning run, I ran a couple items over to our north-north neighbors. As I told them what happened and how I need to get it fixed somehow, someway, she suggested a temporary fix. I just can’t keep chasing dogs every day. Since we are midway through building a goat pen, and the goats are being put on hold momentarily (more on that later), we had a couple of partial rolls of field fence laying around. They jumped into action and got the tractor fired up. On the way back to our house I saw the north neighbor and told him what we were doing, so he jumped on board and came out to help.

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It is ugly. It is loose. It is held up by a single half-hammered-in staple at the top and a zip tie at the bottom of every other post. But it will do the intended job – keeping the dogs in until we can build a more permanent fence – and it would not have been possible without the help of some amazing neighbors who came to my rescue. Good fences make good neighbors. And sometimes bad fences do too.

Mending Wall

Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963

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 outdoor 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 offense.

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.’

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