“Mending Wall”

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 offence.
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.”
Robert Frost

My neighbors seem to agree.

Lauren and I live in a nice little neighborhood with sidewalks and common areas and a community pool. And like most neighborhoods with all those amenities, we have neighborhood dues. Every year, Lauren and I fork over in excess of $300 bucks just to live here and have them send me unpleasant letters everytime my weeds have gotten too tall.

But this year, the developer has finally built houses on almost every spare patch of land, so the neighborhood is finally able to take over the “association” (which has always sounded ominous to me). For Lauren and me, the first order of business was getting those dues lowered. But we soon realized that having any voice at all in our pleasant little community would require us to come out of our comfortable, lazy, little shells and actually take part in some of the stuff going on.

So we signed up for some committees.

The first one we signed up for was the Newsletter committee. The first meeting went well. One of the issues that the women (yes, I was the only man present, and Lauren and I were the only ones there under the age of 35 or 40) brought up were the “sewer cats.” These cats haunt the front of the neighborhood and live in the storm drains. I’m not sure what they live on, but they really irritate the people in the front of the neighborhood (where the really nice houses are). These cats are jet-black, and… oh yeah… they used to be ours.

Shortly after Lauren and I moved in, we adopted two black kittens from some friends. Even though they were both male, we named them “Merry” and “Pippin,” since the Lord of the Rings trilogy was really popular at the time. Of course, this also led to severe ridicule from our friends and family.

Merry was terrified of us from day one. “Oh, he’ll get used to us,” we used to say. We were wrong. Every time we came home, he would dive under the couch and stay there. Taking them to the vet was exhausting. We would have to stage 3 or 4 people all around the couch, one of us would jerk it into the air, and everyone else would dive onto the floor trying to grab him. It was really great.

But then Lauren got pregnant. By this time, we had decided that having indoor pets was something our fathers had avoided for a reason, so we uncerimoniously dumped the cats outside. We were fixing to get another little critter anyway – one who would be considerably cuter and take a LOT more time and money.

Eventually though, our furry little friends began taking longer and longer excursions throughout the neighborhood, until they finally decided to submit a change of address. Occasionally, we still see them darting in and out of storm drains at the front of the neighborhood. We got quite a chuckle to hear our neighbors complaining about them. 🙂

Anyway, the other committee we joined was the Landscaping committee. This was kind of funny too, since I avoid most yard work. I don’t mind cutting the grass when it needs it, but I despise spreading pinestraw, and I practically refuse to plant flowers.

But we joined up anyway. This meeting was pretty nice. We really enjoyed meeting our fellow committee members. In fact, there was another couple there who was just a few years older than us and actually have two young daughters too. We might try to get together with them soon.

The really enjoyable part of the meeting, however, concerned the nature trail that encirlces our neighborhood. Debbie, who was heading our meeting had heard several complaints about various issues with the trail, so she decided to walk it one day with her digital camera in tow. At the meeting, she treated us to these fascinating examples of dilapidation.

Two of the pictures were of my fence.

You know that saying “good enough for government work”? Well, in an effort to save money, I decided years ago to build our own privacy fence, instead of paying someone else to do it. My dad and a few friends helped out with it, and during the project, my dad shared a favorite saying of his: “good enough for my house…” (I really hope my mom doesn’t read this)

That saying became our mantra as we built the mockery of a fence that now surrounds my house. I recently heard that Alec Baldwin plans to release a book on divorce. I guess he figures that doing it the wrong way enables him to give others advice on the subject. I could write a similar book about fence-building.

I had bought 8-ft sections of premade fence from Lowe’s for the project. This proved to be a mistake for several reasons. In building materials, 8-ft sections of things are rarely 8 feet; they are usually about an inch or so shy of that figure. I wasn’t aware of this at the time. I decided to build my fence in stages – the first of which would be setting all the posts. I set them all 8 feet apart. In concrete.

So… I ended up having to splice sections of 2×4 onto the posts, just so the fence sections would reach. It was a real mess.

Also, these fence sections were poorly made. The boards were attached with headless nails. Have you ever wondered why nails have heads? It’s to keep whatever’s nailed down… nailed down. So, boards periodically fall off of my fence, leaving gaps that look like a redneck’s smile.

The poor woman next door has tried unsuccessfully to repair some of this herself, since I am too lazy. The rest of her fence is immaculate, having been built by Shelby Fence, so it’s a wonder that she hasn’t sent me a letter bomb.

Our meeting last week was the last goad I needed to get started. Lauren and I smiled benignly as we looked over the photos, neither of us claiming ownership, just as we had done over the “sewer cat” issue. So this past Saturday, I found myself “mending fences,” just like Robert Frost.

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5 thoughts on ““Mending Wall”

  1. Nate: The saying was actually “looks good FROM my house”, meaning of course that it didn’t have to be any particular way to make me happy, it wasn’t mine. As long as you were satisfied it was ok. Sorry to throw you under the bus here, but I wanted to set the record straight. Oh, I wanted to put in a disclaimer just in case your mom looked at this too. Also, I don’t want Lauren mad at me–she scares me.

  2. One other thing, you might try the tact of “Iwould keep the fence in better shape, but the association dues are so high, that I can’t pay them and afford to do repairs too”. Probably won’t work, but it is a nice way to get the conversation on what you really want, isn’t it?

  3. I too am going to take the opportunity to set the record straight.

    First a big (sarcastic) thanks to Jim O. for his wonderful sayings and great exuses…that’s exactly what we needed =). I didn’t realize I was so intimidating…but now that I know…hmmmm.

    I agree with Nathan in that we both love our neighborhood and if we want any changes to take place we have to be involved…other than wishing and complaining. But Nathan is the one that chose and signed us up for these 2 particular committees.

    In regards to the cats…we really tried. The last day that we saw them around our house was the day before I was taking them to get fixed. Maybe they knew being boys and all…I had them an appointment for a Monday afternoon. I’d run some other errands that morning. Upon coming home with the intent to somehow coax them into their carriers and take them to get fixed, I couldn’t find them. I looked everywhere…it wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that we saw them towards the front of the neighborhood…oh, well…

    As for the landscaping committee, I laughed out loud AT Nate and told him that the only thing they’d ask him to do when he showed up was mow his OWN grass. “How are we going to do anything with landscaping when we (really he) can’t do our own,” I sweetly said.

    Nathan was honest though. He will cut the grass, edge walkways, use the weed eater, and sometimes assist in spreading pinestraw or triming the shrubs. I do the rest: fertilizing, planting ANYTHING, watering, pinestraw, weed control, etc. Plus, I’m in charge of reminding him to keep the grass cut; and that takes up some time! I’m not a nag…ask him if you don’t believe me. I’ve offered to do it myself (though I’d prefer to not – I do the housekeeping). I try to only ask him to do the things that physically would be too difficult for me. Besides, I pick my battles…

    And I don’t want to be the neighbors with the tacky fence and uncut grass…I don’t believe in that much laziness! Note to everyone this compulsion for laziness is all Nathan!!!! (Nate, quit smiling that comment is not to be taken as a compliment ;-)!)

    By the way, my “benign” smile at the meeting was more of a “Here we go again. Great stupid, I mean honey, you just can’t help from trying to label us as white trash (no personal disrespect to those individuals – just don’t want to be one) because of your lack of responsibility and initiative!” smile.

    I must give him credit where it’s due…I personally never said anything to him. HE said after the meeting that night he was going to repair the fence…and he did. He said it just wasn’t right to be on the committee and be one of the problems. I have long agreed! =)

  4. This kind of story is why Amanda and I plan on building our own house one day…outside of a neighborhood. I’ve looked into building a fence around the backyard but haven’t gone through with it. We have to get approval from the H.A. and last we were told they were only allowing a certain type of fence–in order to achieve uniformity throughout the subdivision. Of course, it is a little late for that, my neighbors have a different type of fence built. This is what I’m wanting to build. I’m dreading having to argue my point. “If you want uniformity, let me build the same type of fence they have!!!”

    I’m also not big on the idea of a HA dictating what I can or cant do with my property. I’m not going to let my fence fall apart or weeds grow ten feet tall, but if that is what I want then I should be able to do that. But anyways…that is another story for another day.

  5. “HA are Socialist evils that should be avoided at all cost.”
    The above is from our neighborhood redneck, me.
    “I bought MY house, you want to make a few house payments, go ahead and tell me what to do with my lawn, otherwise you can stick it.” Again more from T.N.R.

    I’ve become somewhat comfortable with my status as T.N.R. I suggest you do as well otherwise you will lose lazy points.

    On the sewer cats. Man you should have told me and Carly that they were originally yours. We thought they were cool, kinda like Ninja Turtle Cats. You should convince your HA weenies that they are cool and should be embraced.

    Oh and I think I liked the other background better.

    -Matt

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