Walling In and Walling Out

I’ve seen a lot of fences in the last few days. Those pretty fences one only sees in Kentucky’s horse country: flat stones stacked waist-high, with perpendicular ones laid along the top. Something about that is attractive to me: permanence, boundaries, strength.

One of my favorite poems by Robert Frost is his “Mending Wall,” which begins with the famous line, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” He’s right. Walls deteriorate and require work to keep up. I think, though, that when it comes to human relationships, even the most intimate of relationships, walls are natural and require continuous work to tear down.

In Frost’s poem, two neighbors meet every Spring to walk the length of the fence that divides them and, keeping the fence between them, they repair the stones that have fallen from the wall over the course of the year. One neighbor is convinced that “good fences make good neighbors.” The other, however, is not convinced:

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.

We can debate the extent to which walls make good neighbors. There can be no debate, however, that they make for terrible marriages. My wife and I have just returned from our yearly retreat with the sole purpose of toppling walls, and I am reminded that I have the most patient and longsuffering wife on the planet. Here’s to open fields, sweetheart. May it always remain so.

I promised Barbara Napier, the host and incredible gourmet of the beautiful, relaxing, and ambrosial Snug Hollow Farm Bed and Breakfast, that I would offer some cyber-kudos for her hospitality. Thanks, Barbara!

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