Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Good Fences...

...make good neighbors," wrote Robert Frost, famously, in his poem, "Mending Wall." Or walls, or gates, or hedges. Frost actually attributed the words, in the last line of his poem, to a neighbor. His own opinion, I think, was expressed in that other line: "Something there is that doesn't love a wall,/That wants it down"--although that, too, he attributed to other forces, those, perhaps, of nature.

Anyway, Ellie and I have something of a disagreement. Not really a disagreement, because we both see the other's point of view. A couple of times a week, we walk our hill--the same hill where we have lived, in three different houses, for the past thirty-five years. We take George, the dog, and walk up around the streets, past our former abodes, for a little less than a half hour for the full circuit. It's actually how we found our first (owned) house--walking around the hill from our first (rented) one. George, of course, was not around at the time. In those days, we had a Simaese cat named Tuzigoot, after an ancient Indian ruin in Arizona.

Still, we have been walking this hill for thirty-five years, believe it or not, and we have watched the changes. There has been a good deal of remodeling going on of late--thanks, presumably, to the increase in property values and the favorable interest rates. What I've been noticing particularly in recent weeks is the proliferation of fences--and wall, and gates, and hedges. Take a look at them all, some newly completed, some under construction:

These are just a few examples that I snapped this morning on our walk. There are more...

But here's our disagreement. Ellie's first take on this is primarily from an aesthetic point of view. She sees it as home improvement, a way of making otherwise dull house fronts more attractive. I have a darker view. I tend to see it as a relfection of the zeitgeist. I see it as being about security, privacy, secrecy, the fear of others and the need to protect oneself from them. I see it in the context of the misnamed Patriot Act, the obsessive secrecy of our current administration, a society petrified that others might spy on them and uncover their secrets.

What's good about this argument, of course, is that we're both right. And lest I begin to think myself too righteous, Ellie took pains to remind me that at our first (owned) house on the hill, I was all in favor of a locked gate at the bottom of the stairs that led up to the front door from the street. I didn't take a picture of that one. In fact, this morning we didn't even pass it. We took a different route.


Mark said...

We've been talking about this subject a lot in some of my classes, actually. One of the defining characteristics of the past fifty years in US history (since the decade between JFK's assassination, Watergate, and the Vietnam escalation) is that there has been a sincere loss in trust in humanity in America. We're all on our own now and the community is being destroyed. Church attendance has dropped dramatically in the past fifty years. Social institutions (American Legion, Kiwanis, Rotary Intl., etc.) have also experienced a decline.

I think maybe walls around houses are part of a much larger phenomenon in which we're all slowly losing our trust in our government, and subsequently our surrounding communities. Confucius would have a fit. Granted, though, the current administration is not helping the situation in any way. I don't foresee our government gaining the people's trust back anywhere in the near future.

carly said...

P; A good gate would have stopped thieves from stealing my car. And coyotes from eating our cats and dog. And those characters who are breaking and entering homes around here and beating the residents.
Crime has existed under every form of government so far. So, maybe it's time to try a new form of government. But I think the problem is in man himself.

Ps. If you continue your gate photography, it would make a good coffee table book. A good picture of the Gates of Hell would be worth millions. I once painted one.

khengsiong said...

I wonder if your neighbors would mistake you for terrorist when you snapped these photos ;)

A few years ago, I drove to a park where I jogged. After work out I cooled down near my car.The owner of the vehicle next to mine angrily questioned me, "Why do you stand near my car? Are you a car thief???"
That's how insecure we feel...