Recently, my husband and father-in-law have been working to construct a fence around a portion of our yard. The space isn’t very big, but our yard borders a busy road and we have dogs. I hate to always have them on a leash and wanted them to have space to run without me having to worry about them so much.
We frequent the local dog parks, but it’s nice to be able to stay home and let them roam while I clean the house or read a book.
The fence does not provide any privacy, just a barrier. But the entire project sparked a rather interesting conversation about fences. Some people love them, others hate them. It got me thinking about why.
Privacy, as I note above, often comes up as a reason people like fences. You can hang out in your yard without worrying about nosy neighbors. As an introvert who likes quiet time, I understand this. Being alone is peaceful and a fence can provide a sense of seclusion.
Keeping things — trash, animals, people — out of your yard can be another reason for a fence. If you have a garden, perhaps a fence is the easiest way to keep deer away. Maybe your neighbors have dogs and you’d rather them do their business in their own yard.
Keeping things — children, pets, belongings — in the yard can be made easier with a fence, too. Safety, here, arises as the largest concern.
But the conversation I had recently centered less around why people like or don’t like fences and more around what a fence means. For example, if you put a fence between you and your neighbor, does that send a message to your neighbor to stay away? I don’t think it does, but that’s certainly a consideration. Maybe I think too logically to understand that sentiment.
Robert Frost once wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors” in the poem “Mending Wall,” in which he questions whether or not that phrase is true. Fences can lessen the potential for disputes with neighbors, but they can also alienate them.
As much as I love my new fence, it doesn’t separate me from any neighbors. It separates me — and my pets — from a busy road. In fact, when we started talking about and designing the fence, we intentionally only fenced that side of the yard. The side between me and my neighbor remains open, welcoming and accessible (she likes to spoil our dogs with treats).
The conversation around fences and neighbors can extend beyond the literal, especially as we enter election season full force. Fences don’t have to be physical objects, maybe it’s a designation or label we claim for ourselves. Do labels reduce the potential for disagreement by allowing us to group with like-minded friends or do they alienate those around us?