We live in a small neighborhood, just 21 homes all sharing the same open field that serves as a back yard. The “field” is held by the homeowner’s association and we are all free to use it, within certain limits. Any alteration requires permission of the board, and nothing that creates a hazard to children or pets is allowed.
Last spring my wife and I asked for and received permission to fence and landscape a 30×40 Foot area as a garden and play zone for our terriers, otherwise known as the terrier-orists. Until we had the fence all walks had to be on leash and it was hard to just sit and enjoy the yard while restraining a dog, so we stayed up on the deck, or in the screened porch. We seldom saw anyone else in the yard except for dog walkers and the occasional squirrel, and often lamented how little the green space was used.
As we erected the fence and installed our plantings, neighbors started dropping by to check the progress and say hello, and they would visit with us and the dogs. Some brought their own dogs and let them loose to play with ours inside the fence, others just leaned on the fence and chatted. People we knew “to speak too” and saw only at the annual Association meeting stopped by regularly now and chatted. We offered drinks and they accepted and some offered plants, advice, and assistance with the project. The spring turned into summer and we started seeing more and more neighbors on their decks and doing plantings around their areas. No one else put in a fence, but I suspect it’s just a matter of time.
A year later we are closer to our neighbors than ever before and it is because we created a barrier. They can visit and feel secure because they see where the boundary lies. They can come in and stay, or visit over the fence and leave at their leisure. I spent enough time in English Literature classes to know Robert Frost meant his poem, “Mending Walls” to be ironic, but in this case his irony fails. The fence does make for good neighbors, it says “visit, feel safe, you are not intruding”.
When I was a child we had a front porch, and anyone dropping by could stay on the porch to get this same feeling. They didn’t have to go inside the house, they could visit on the porch and be informal, relaxed. I suppose it says something that a fence has replaced the porch as a social smoother, but I’m not going to think about that too much, I’m going to enjoy getting to know my neighbors instead.
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