Once fences were built to keep things out. In the free-range days, livestock roamed the countryside, and anyone who wanted to secure crop or garden fenced to keep the animals out.
In my country, split-rail came first. Poor-man ingenuity, that, a mix of blood, sweat, and the rot-resistant wood of the American chestnut. The latter is long gone, victim of a fungal disease in the early twentieth century that killed three to four billion trees in the South.
What once was taken for granted is no more.
A few tree scientists still believe that the American chestnut can be revived and restored. Trust me, it can’t. When something is gone it is gone. Over is over. No amount of striving or grieving will bring back that which is lost.
It is what it is.
Barbed wire came next, a nasty little invention that worked well but also inspired bloodshed among neighbors. Down here we pronounce it “bob wire,” but a rose by any other name will still draw blood if you try to cross it.
Today most folk build fences to keep things in. Or more often just for show, depending on the size of their bank account. Neat lines of square post and treated lumber create a nice little pastoral accent for a country estate. Paint it white for that extra touch of highfalutin. Things to be kept in strictly optional.
Whether for in or out, the thing about a fence is that it needs constant tending. A great Yankee poet once wrote “something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” The man who builds a fence has a lot of things working against him — weather, trees, brush, animals, and even neighbors.
Fence-tending involves introspection — lots of walking, looking, searching for weak spots. Constant vigilance. Continual repair. Methods and materials may change, but sweat still smells like sweat in any century.
A single breach is all it takes to bring ruin. The bull is in the neighbor’s pasture. Dog’s in the road. Anybody seen grandma lately?
Whether to keep out or in, a man has his reasons for the fences he constructs.
My advice is to build them high and strong, neighbors, and don’t ever neglect your tending. A weak fence is wasted time that you will never get back.