Intersections – Good Fences
This post has been updated.
By Nicki Salcedo
I’ve always loved the line from Robert Frost, “Good fences make good neighbors,” even though I disagree with it. I disagree with Frost and love him all the time. I don’t take the road less traveled. I take the well-worn path proudly. The road less traveled is less traveled for a reason. That’s the road where the path is narrow and tree roots will trip you and there’s a mudslide and usually zombies. I’m known for taking the safe path. I don’t take Frost’s advice about which road to take or the benefit of fences. I’m known for not liking fences.
I have a fence. It is supposed to keep out the coyotes and possibly stray dogs. It is supposed to keep in my children, our hula hoops, and my abandoned vegetable garden. My guess is that my fence also keeps out good neighbors.
I have neighbors on three sides of our fence, but I don’t know them all. One neighbor brought us baked goods the week we moved in. We wave hello at intersections. We chat in the coffee shop. But we almost never speak when we are home.
There were only two reasons to have a fence when I was a kid. Swimming pool or dog. If you didn’t have a pool or a dog, you didn’t need a fence. I grew up without boundaries. I was required to stay within the limits of our yard, but without a fence my backyard seemed endless.
Not so anymore. The reason we chose our house was for the backyard. It is big by city standards, but three times smaller than the one of my youth. I still love it. Sometimes when I am enjoying the pollen-heavy air, I don’t see the yard. I see the border. I don’t notice the trees and fighting grass. Here Bermuda and there fescue. I see a fence. I wonder what is on the other side.
On my daughter’s birthday it grew strangely warm for December. and I wrote this:
It was the kind of December in Georgia where kids shed their jackets, then shed their long sleeves. The day when ladies turned their faces to the sun and after a few moments, grew hot and eventually had to find shade. The men cooked like it was summer. We called to our neighbors over the fences. The one whose daughter floated bubbles toward our noise walked over and got a piece of cake. There are leaves on the kitchen floor. There is icing in the back garden.
I felt strange shouting over the fence that day. I wondered if I was being intrusive to call out and invite my neighbors over for cake. But when they walked over I was immeasurably happy. They had not been in our house before, but we have talked over the fence before. Not often. Like our other neighbors we are more likely to speak when we are not at home. Strange fences.
When everyone else rails against technology and social media, I disagree. Technology was created to dig under and climb over fences like a bad neighborhood cat.
We communicate differently now.
I have carried a single mango to a friend around the corner.
I have seen the village rise up when I have needed strange things like a bow. Did I need a cross bow? Or a hunting bow? Or a bow that a Disney Princess would carry? The next day at daycare a dad walked in carrying a bow for me to borrow. It was as though I had asked for a cup of sugar while shouting from porch to porch.
When my cousin visited from England, I asked my virtual neighbors for a guitar that he could use. Did I need an acoustic or electric? Did I need a bass guitar? With an amp? The next day I met my neighbor from the East Atlanta Village who brought the guitar to Decatur for us.
I have shoved a ballet leotard and tights in my mailbox for another neighbor to use.
I’ve loaned out a stroller. I once borrowed a baby gate from a friend for another friend to use for her cat. Our neighborly spirit lives on in a different way.
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.
– Robert Frost
I am that something that doesn’t love a wall. I must be the thing that causes our wooden fence to rotten and welcome moss. There is a broken spot where the bad neighborhood cat finds and sleeps among my neglected rows of parsley and cilantro. I don’t shoo the cat away. She reminds me that it isn’t about the fences. Good neighbors make good neighbors.
I’ll be chatting the B2 Book Club Northlake on April 21st and with the Oakhurst Book Club on April 29th. I love meeting my neighbors. You can email me for details if you’d rather not shout over my fence. email@example.com
Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.