Good Fences

Good fences make good neighbors, Robert Frost wrote, in Mending Wall.  Between our property and the neighbours on both sides, a split-rail fence delineates the property lines.  We built the fence ourselves, getting on for twenty years ago, pulling the cedar rails out of the brush of an old farm at the edge of the village, gladly given to us by the elderly farmer. When the fence was done, he walked down one day to see them in their new incarnation. “Good to see them used again,” he said, of the old swamp cedar rails, probably even then well over a hundred years old.

But in a massive thunderstorm earlier this year, with drenching rain and high winds from the east, unusual for here, the young butternut that grows just at the edge of our eastern neighbour’s property shifted just a little, leaning into the fence, and took down three rails. Oddly enough, it didn’t break them: the steady pressure on the fence snapped the wire that held them to the posts. But they couldn’t go back up – the trunk of the butternut was in the way now.

We debated taking the tree down, but I really didn’t want to. Another young butternut, at the edge of the maple swamp behind us, also listed in the storm, but it straightened itself up within a couple of weeks.  I decided to wait. Yesterday, mulching leaves, I took a good look at the tree, and realized it had grown straight again, but from about five feet off the ground, meaning its lower trunk still was an impediment to replacing the rails.

BD and I brainstormed, and decided the simplest thing to do was to add a post directly beside the one north of the tree. This would allow us to run the rails from the new post to the existing one south of the tree, creating a slight zig-zag (or, really, only a zig). We throw almost nothing out in term of wood, so hiding down with the compost bins was a huge old post that had once supported the far end of the washing line. Cut down and wired securely to the existing post, it was the perfect size.

It took us about half an hour to fix the fence, on a glorious November day, sunny, very warm, no wind. Overhead ravens swore at and chased migrating red-tail hawks. The chickadees went back and forth to the feeders, ignoring us, joined by two species of nuthatch and two of woodpeckers. The squirrels – black and red – are happy to have their highway contiguous again, and neighbouring dogs and grandchildren have their limits back. Good fences do, indeed, make good neighbours.

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