“Good fences make good neighbors!” is a popular quote from the Robert Frost poem “Mending Wall,” circa 1914. This proverb presents a simple enough, if not plausibly logical, philosophy. That being, that in order for us to get along with our neighbors, and fellow man in general, there must be a few set boundaries. A few rules set into place to insure that everyone involved is content. This isn’t just speaking of actual physical property but also an unspoken sense of respect for those around us.
On its own, good fences = good neighbors seems to be a sound life equation. However, when you take in the poem it is quoted from as a whole, you see this phrase from an entirely different perspective.
In the poem the narrator speaks of a yearly tradition that happens every spring. During this time he and a neighbor meet at the rock wall that separates and represents the property line. Together they walk the line, making repairs and replacing fallen stones, each remaining on their respective side of the wall. During this task the narrator, tiring of what he sees as an unnecessary, foolish chore, questions the very need for the border. The neighbor, whom he implies to be of ignorance and inhospitable sentiment, insists the wall remain by simply continuing to commit to its repair. No actual explanation is offered, instead the neighbor simply states, “Good fences make good neighbors!” in reply to the narrator’s inquires to just let the wall go.
So in truth, when referencing the good fences and neighbors quote, are we actually saying we don’t need fences? Or are we saying that just good neighbors don’t need fences? Should you only build a fence if you have bad neighbors? Maybe we’re saying that if you have good neighbors you should build a fence together and it would be a good fence? Can good neighbors build bad fences? Do bad fences make bad neighbors? Is the type of the neighborhood we live in defined by the quality of the fencing? Should we use fencing swords to keep out undesirably bad neighbors? Should we fence the property we stole from our neighbor’s yard for personal gain and assume it’s OK if they don’t have a fence? If both neighbors each built fences are they gooder neighbors? Is whoever has the best fence the goodest neighbor? Do we really need fences?
Some…no, actually quite a lot of people ask this question and argue against fencing in any form. They see a fence, or any type of man-made blockade that keeps them from going somewhere they think they should be able to go, as an act of anti-socialism. They feel their rights are inhibited if they can’t freely go wherever they wish. Whether they’ve any business there or actually need or want to go there. “I want to go in there because I can’t!” (OK just for the record we are literally talking about actual fences, there is no underlying metaphor at work here.) These anti-fence folks have obviously never discovered a random unknown child in their kitchen (been there done that); a child who wandered out of a fenceless yard, across the street, through another fenceless yard and into their house. Bad parenting – good fencing = child abduction, yet another sound life equation.
So do good fences make good neighbors? No, you can have the best fence in the world and your neighbors can still suck. But good fences do help keep the suckiness on its side of the fence. In addition, not all fences are erected with the intentions of keeping neighbors out. Some are there to keep inhabitants in, this refers back to the unattended, wandering child situation.
Neglectful parents aside, they’re also keen for keeping pets safe and/or in check. For example, the fence that runs the line around of the backside of the Casa o’ Saw was put into place shortly after the loss of Bruce (mine and Lil Red’s first mutual fur-baby). Now present and future furry friends can be released to make a potty without fear of automobile accidents. But has that fence improved the neighbors?
Considering the budget it’s a pretty good fence, so we have pretty good neighbors, but the fence wasn’t enough. In order to achieve the level of neighborly goodness necessary for happy neighboring, a hedge was required. The best types of neighbors are the ones that can’t see you and that you don’t have to see unless you want to.
Good fencing + hedge = good neighbors not being able to stare at you from the fence when you’re in the backyard, the final sound life equation for the day.
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