Intersections – Good Fences

Posted by April 15, 2015
Nicki Salcedo

Nicki Salcedo

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.

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.


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  • foozle

    I really enjoy your columns. My late grandfather was constantly decrying the demise of community in our culture. But like you I think it may be a bit resurrected by our electronic connections.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      Thanks for reading, foozle. My dream house has a wonderful front porch with rocking chairs. It would be nice if neighbors would stroll by and say hello. One day!

  • Alvin McNeely

    Tending those fences as neighbors together entails working together across the divide. Mending the deficiencies requires recognizing problems and working to remediate them. If only one side tends the fence then the collective effort cannot exist, and the chance for a mutual understanding derived from discussing how to work through the immediate problem is lost.

    People who tend their lots publicly offer their neighbors and those who pass the tending an opportunity to connect. We all lose when the maintenance is hired rather than done by those who intend a life in the community of others. As it goes for our yards and neighborhoods it also goes for all of our intimate social settings which translate into misanthropic reactions to our greater society.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      I used to cut the grass growing up. Maybe because I was a girl and a kid, it wasn’t communal. It was my quiet time. It was probably different for my dad on the days he cut the grass. He loved chatting. That was his superpower. We had great neighbors. I have great neighbors now. Instead of being outside cutting the grass, we are outside watching our kids play. I think there will be a resurgence of the communal. See, here we are being neighborly.

  • ttseim

    If I had you for a neighbor, I would in the stealth of night remove the fence so in the morning we could share a cup of coffee without having to cross an artificial boundary meant to keep us apart!!!!

    • Nicki Salcedo

      You would build a porthole in the fence. I’d gladly share a cup of coffee with you, good neighbor. But I’ll be drinking warm milk.

  • Eric

    Sorry to say, I’m with Mr. Frost. While I like my neighbors well enough, and there are no issues between any of us, I still prefer the fence. I’m just not a very sociable person, and have always preferred to be left alone. A fence fulfills that need. The possibility of an unplanned conversation with my neighbors fills me with dread, because I’m just not very good at spontaneity. I regret this, and I’m sure my neighbors find me off-putting, but I am what I am.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      It is good to be Team Frost. “He thought he kept the universe alone;
      For all the voice in answer he could wake / Was but the mocking echo of his own / From some tree-hidden cliff across the lake…” I’m the most socially awkward person you’ll ever meet. I want to be social, but t is hard for me. And there are only so many times people want to hear about the new Star Wars trailer. Plus, I want to go into my backyard wearing my pjs. Maybe I need a good fence and a better front porch. Thank you for reading and commenting. I love hearing your perspective.

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