Do Fences Make Good Neighbors?

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but for those who don’t know, I work third shift. Working in the wee hours of the morning has its advantages, but they rarely outweigh the disadvantages.

One of the disadvantages is sleeping until 4 pm. When I get up, most of the day has already passed by, and by the time I’ve had a cup of coffee, my daughter is ready for dinner (she’s two, so she’s hard to argue with). Also, not only has my wife decided what needs to be done around our house, she’s already well into the project. This afternoon, I woke up to this…


Here’s the story. We bought our house 2 ½ years ago, and since then we have made several discoveries that proved that few upgrades had been made to the house since it was built in 1972. We’ve replaced windows, rewired the kitchen, installed lighting in nearly every room, and a host of other things. We have a list of improvements so long that Bob Vila and Tim “The Tool Man” Tailor (with help from Al) couldn’t complete in six months.

One of the things we’d been putting off has been replacing the privacy fence. This past weekend, however, I discovered that our privacy fence had begun to collapse. The fence has been patched, propped, and supported many times, which is what you’d expect from a fence erected over thirty years ago. (I spent one late December weekend digging holes and pouring concrete because the gate and the section that abuts the house fell over during a storm.) I’d planned to pull the fence down over the coming week, but my wife decided that she wasn’t going to wait on a graveyard shift zombie to crawl from his grave.

I have no problem with my wife taking the initiative. She was a sergeant in the Army, and I only made it as far as Third Class Petty Officer in the Navy, therefore, she outranks me. I follow her lead. My problem is the neighbors. Those to our left have a pool, so we left that side of the fence up until they can put one up of their own. We don’t know our other neighbors (perhaps because of the fence) and I don’t think we’ll be fast friends just because we can now see each other better.

While I was stacking up sections of the fence—neatly, as to not offend my neighbors—I couldn’t help but think about Robert Frost’s Mending Wall, and the old adage about good fences making good neighbors. I guess my wife and I will find out this summer, because we have no plans to put up another one.

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 neighbour 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 neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? 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 neighbours.”


2 thoughts on “Do Fences Make Good Neighbors?

    • Well, to tell you the truth, I really wouldn’t have gotten angry over that. It needed to come down, and I’m surprised that it stood for as long as it did. You’d be surprised how easily some of the posts came up!


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