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I’ve been watching across the creek from my yard as two of my neighbors work out their issues and boundaries. One of them has lived there as long as I’ve lived here. He keeps his grass cut and his yard looking nice. The guy next to him lets all sorts of things grow very tall in both back and front, encroaching on the sidewalk. Some of us were bothered by the burdock that he grew very near the sidewalk, its 1-2″ burrs dropping and ultimately attaching themselves to our dogs as we walk by. I asked if he might take it out. No. Shortly thereafter, the burdock appeared to have been knocked over. Several of us suspected each other of doing it. Wasn’t me! I just began walking in the street when I passed his house.

Then he bought the house on the other side and is now encouraging that yard to go in the direction of the first.

Recently, a tall privacy fence went up between the two fellows’ houses. I wondered who paid for it. Now my good neighbor, who had so often expressed dismay about the other one’s yard, won’t have to look at it. Then another fence went up on the far side of the second house. Aha. He is enclosing both yards.

“Good fences make good neighbors,” Robert Frost’s neighbor said. A friend of mine had only one stipulation when looking to buy a house: no privacy fence. Hates them. I fenced my yard for the dogs mostly with green wire fencing that wouldn’t obstruct the view of the yard beyond. I wanted to see all the growing things and all the animals that wander through. If we had a big wooden fence, we’d never see the deer back there, the foxes or the raccoons.

I had to memorize Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall,” when I was in high school. I’ve forgotten most of it but always remembered the part about elves.
Here’s the whole thing.

by Robert Frost

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.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

There are no cows here in my neighborhood, either. Just us elves.

If you’re looking for my cards or art, you’ll find all of that on my website. And if you enjoy these letters, feel free to forward this one to anyone you think might like it. And if someone forwarded this one to you, you can sign up here to receive the letters right in your Inbox. Finally, you’ll find past letters and poems here.

Thanks for listening,

P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”

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