When I was a child growing up in rural Pulaski County, KY, I learned from the behavior of my father and my uncles and essentially any adult male about the importance of knowing where one’s property line is. I learned the value of maintaining one’s property and of walking the perimeter of your property line regularly for a couple of reasons. One, you don’t want what is yours to get out. For instance, if your cattle got out, not only is that a lot of money walking off but the escaped cattle might also trample your neighbors crops or cause a car accident. The second reason you want to keep watch over your property line is that you don’t want what is not yours to get in. Uninvited hunters may get the game you were planning on feeding your family this winter, or people looking for a place to hide their marijuana crop (God love’m) might get your farm seized by the police or even land you in jail.
Barbed wire or a combination of board fences and barbed wire were the preferred variety. They were mostly an indicator and it was not uncommon to have no fences between where your woods backed up to someone else’s woods or field, but both parties still had a clear notion of where their own property ended and the other’s began.
You’ll remember from my Meditations on Dog Shit, that these country scenarios often represent a sort of utopian ideal for me- where dogs can shit freely and no one has to be concerned about its clean up, etc.
I suppose this is really just another story of how I’m ill-equipped for town living, but if you’ll indulge me, you may learn a thing.
When I worked in the County Clerk’s office summers during college as one of “Willard’s girls”, I spent long hours reading lengthy property descriptions surveyors prepared for deeds. It was fascinating to me to imagine someone out looking for a particular tree and measuring a particular angle to figure out what belonged to whom.
Nowadays- I love how that sounds- I’m pretending I’m 83 instead of 38, Nowadays, I find that people’s fences are very good indicators of their sense of boundaries in general and that most, if not all, of our societal and personal ills can be traced to a lack of healthy, meaningful boundaries.
Now, I don’t personally wish to live in a compound. I don’t need 20 foot high chain link fences with razor wire on the top and snipers in guard towers. But I’ll tell you what I do like about people who live this way- you will not accidentally step onto their property. You have a very clear understanding of what might happen if you do. I’ve met people who are this way emotionally and physically. They are very easy to deal with simply by avoiding them. They want to avoid you too, so it’s usually not hard. If, however, you’d like to take a stab at softening them, you’re probably going to fail. They didn’t get this fearful and defensive and tight overnight, and it’s going to take a looooooong time for them to trust you and let you in. And if they DO let you in? Well, then you’ll likely just be considered part of their property and stuck behind the razor wire WITH them. Good luck with that.
I’m not a big fan of the privacy fence either, though I tend to get along with these folks pretty well too. You can see that they don’t want you to see. I like that. I like that if you don’t want me to look at something, you cover it up. Now, Do NOT read this as some defense of crazy rape culture that says women shouldn’t be able to wear whatever the hell they want and not be subjected to bullshit. I’m not down with that. Just cause you can see that I am having a barbecue in my backyard in no way implies that you are invited, and if you are my neighbor, and I didn’t invite you, I probably don’t wish for you to even engage me in conversation about what’s going on in my backyard. This seems like common sense, but you know what they say about that- it’s not too common. However, if I don’t even want a man to LOOK at my backyard, then a privacy fence is definitely in order. He should not have to avert his eyes. If you have enough property, you never need a privacy fence. Just don’t put what you don’t want seen too close to the road. Simple. But town living….. ugh.
So the compound people and the privacy fence people are relatively easy to get along with even though I don’t want to join them.
Certain country people I knew growing up had electric fences that you could see. I never really trusted them or their fences. As I child, I was taught electric fences are hot, but you could so easily run into one because they were NEARLY invisible. Also, a little rain, and the fence would short out making them unreliable. You never knew if you’d get shocked or not, and so sometime the animals, and the intruders, would just risk it. A good family friend never let one stop him for a second. He never turned one off. He just picked it up. He knew how much voltage it carried, and it didn’t scare him, and he’d just move it. We’d often not bother to turn them off either, but we’d shimmy under them or step over them. We weren’t quite as tough as that man or the bull (who never let a fence of any kind get in the way of his plans either).
You had to really be looking to see a regular old electric fence, but sometimes people would be kind and put the yellow things on them to warn you, but those with invisible fences? They give the appearance that there are no boundaries, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. These are the people for whom I am most concerned at this very moment- the invisible fence people. These fences give the appearance that you have no boundaries when, in fact, you do have boundaries. Unfortunately your boundaries do NOTHING to protect you or your animals. They only protect other people FROM your dog- and then only sometimes. I’m afraid I had become one of these invisible fence people in body, mind and spirit for a bit.
You see, I wanted it to look like I had no boundaries. I imagined my backyard as this idyllic place where my dog (spirit) could play comfortably and everyone could see my beautiful yard, and my happy dog, and life would be perfect. Only loving neighbors and their perfectly mannered children and animals would ever approach my lawn and only when I was present. Our animals and children would all get along perfectly. You know, like in subdivisions.
This is not how this worked out for me, and I’ve noticed it may not be working out so well for some others. My spirit was the dog that couldn’t see the boundary but could see the dog it wanted to play with on the other side of that invisible boundary. It kept getting shocked when I would get too close. The other friendly dog could come into my yard without consequence, and he did whenever he wanted. However, I couldn’t go visit his yard. Also, because unfriendly dogs could come into my yard too, I’d often wind up having to either fight or hide in my OWN back yard.
Sometimes my spirit dog was like my childhood family friend who just picked up the electric fence with his bare hands. I knew the consequence of crossing my own boundary. I knew the price, and I did it anyway because I wanted what was on the other side. But the worst problem in having crossed one’s own invisible fence boundary either on purpose or by accident, is that it’s gonna HURT to come back home. You’ve got to want to come home badly enough to face the shock AGAIN.
After having gone through this process countless times, I’ve decided to put up some new boundaries. My literal real estate is not very big right now, but my mental and spiritual real estate is vast. I will mark my property lines. I will let people know what consequences can be expected if they cross them. I will invite only trustworthy people onto my land. I will keep what is private far enough away from the road so that folks driving by have no need to avert their eyes.
The best part about having good, visible fences is that it makes it clear who is worthy of being in your life. People who respect your boundaries can be your friends, or at least good, peaceful neighbors. People who don’t, well… you’ll need to do a careful cost/benefits analysis about those folks.
Society would be improved by some healthy personal boundaries, to be sure, but instead of folks focusing on building and maintaining their own fences, people seem obsessed with either telling people they can’t or shouldn’t have any fences of any kind OR they attempt to tell people what kind of fences they have to build with some exceedingly precise specifications.
Good fences make good neighbors folks. Let’s build some for OURSELVES.