I can picture my grandfather walking his pasture land checking his fences. One of his fears was to find an unmended part of the fence where cows had escaped into neighboring property. It seemed he and his sons were always setting fence posts or stringing “bob wor”, also known as barbed wire, to assure the cattle were kept safe and not a threat to anyone else.
This memory calls to mind twentieth century American poet Robert Frost’s poem, The Mending Wall, which is based on a 17th century proverb that good fences make good neighbors. Frost describes two New England neighbors who share a common stone fence which is the boundary of their properties. On one side is an apple orchard and on the other a growth of pines. This stone fence is in habitual need of repair after a winter of rain and wind as well as hunters crossing it. This makes for an annual tradition for the two men to meet in a shared and cordial effort to put the stones back in place to mend the dividing landmark.
One of the property owners views the fence as an offending barrier. It is not as if it is keeping cows out of a garden or off of a roadway. He believes it is a barrier that prevents human interaction. However, his neighbor insists on rebuilding the wall each spring by replacing fallen stones because he holds to the belief of his father that there is a need for a fence to assure no disputes take place between neighbors. HIs father always said good fences make good neighbors and he continues to believe this is true. Because of the fence, each is aware of where their responsibilities begin and end in regard to land which avoids disputes or quarrels.
As we are faced with an uncertain threat to our health and well -being, our daily routines are interrupted. We are required to make decisions about our families’ needs, attendance at large gatherings, and precautionary removal from interaction from social settings that previously were routine and taken for granted. Now, it is in the best interest of all for us to set ourselves apart with a boundary not made of stone but made of care. Care for others who are weaker than us and could be harmed by an illness new and unknown to us. Care for those who need our help in stopping the march of infection across our community, state, nation and beyond. Care for those who are capable and working diligently to keep us safe and find answers to this perplexing and damaging force.
While my grandfather and his sons would work to build strong and lasting fences to keep his livestock as well as his neighbors property well cared for. He would often be seen at the gate talking to friends who might be passing by to talk and catch up on what was going on in their lives. He cared about people.
His fences were barriers to prevent certain problems such as escaped cows, trouble with neighbors over damage caused by herefords trampling newly planted farmland, or a call from the sheriff that someone’s herd was headed down the lane.
Today it remains true. Whether you are a cattleman or not, good fences that are self imposed, tangible or not, do make for good neighbors. As we extend our spring break at St. Cyprian’s Episcopal School we wish for all of you to take care and be well as our neighbors and friends.