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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

So says Robert Frost's neighbor in his poem, "Mending Fences."  The author disputes this when there are no cows, suggesting that he would ask first what he is walling in or out.  I agree with Mr. Frost and his neighbor.  Without animals (and even kids in some cases) fences probably aren't necessary. 

But, since we do have cows, along with sheep, llamas, ducks, chickens, a goat, a dog and kids, it has become ever more clear each year just how critical good fences are to being a good neighbor.  Poor fencing on our property has alienated each of our neighbors at some time over the 12 years we've lived on our current property.  Some have been more tolerant but each has reached their limit of patience with us, depending upon the emotional or physical damage caused by our wayward animals.  The only neighbors we haven't upset with our animals are to the south of us.  But that's probably because they're a mile away due to crop land being between us and them rather than just a few feet across a property line.

Although nobody was upset that we're aware of, we once received a call from the City of Earlham telling us two of our dogs were lounging near the gas pumps at the Casey's store two miles away.   We also had a Great Pyrenees who found her way (once with part of a young litter of pups in tow) to the interstate a mere one mile away.  Another Pyr was seen two miles away in another direction.  Try as we might to confine them in our pasture with the livestock, where they belonged, they defied boundaries by squeezing through barbed wire, gates and other various efforts to contain them.

It was the long distance Pyr, Chuck, who started the problems.  When we bought our home and 38 acres we had no neighbors to the west.  Within two years there were two new homes built and an older home moved there from up the road.  Chuck routinely patrolled that previouslyvacant ground, sometimes with a pet turkey (ours, not his) following him along the way.  The new home immediately to the west had some nice landscaping and Chuck fancied them territory to be marked.  It wasn't too long before the bushes browned up.  Could have been the drought conditions, but the neighbors had a point.   Our dog peeing on their bushes wasn't neighborly.  In our defense, bushes continued to turn brown well after the untimely death of Chuck in 2001.

The prior tenants of the third house to the west, very tolerant friends I might add, mentioned that neighbor two to the west had told them he was going to shoot Chuck if he saw them on their land again.  Either he was a bad shot or didn't see Chuck again, but they eventually moved and Chuck sported no extra holes.  The new owners were quite understanding when another of our dogs tore open their garbage out by the road (on Christmas Day I might add).  My next door neighbor had already called to let me know that he was a victim of the carnage as well so the boys and I headed down there to clean it up. 

Neighbor one to the west has also been a victim multiple times of cows and sheep straying onto their nicely mowed lawn and leaving piles of bulk fertilizer.  At one point sheep got into their garage and ate newly purchased flowers and dog food.  A gift certificate to a nearby greenhouse was in order there.

Good fences would have prevented all of this heartache and aggravation for us and our neighbor.

We recently approached a full year since our animals' last incursion onto their property.  We were tempted to send them an anniversary card but, shortly before the one year was up we got a call.  A couple of our lambs had managed to sneek through somewhere.  Since the lambs were bottle fed the neighbor walked up to them, picked them up and dropped them over the fence.  When it happened a second time I got the call.  I told him about the anniversary card and, thankfully, he found that humorous.  I couldn't find the spot that the lambs snuck through so I we just didn't use that paddock for a while.  They must have grown too big to get through because we've used the paddock again and nobody has escaped.

Another neighbor gave an earful over the phone to Lorraine one day because of the dog in the road chasing cars.  We've had such a parade of dogs purchases and litters of puppies I can't even remember who the culprit was in that case.   Probably our Newfoundland, Daisy.  The final straw for that neighbor was coming so close to hitting the dog and feeling the need to swerve, almost going in the ditch with a child in her vehicle.  Once again, our failure to contain and control our animals was our fault and they were fully justified to let us know that our dogs trying to herd their vehicles was problematic. 

Good fences would have solved this problem.

More recently, I awoke one morning to hear the sound of sheep outside our bedroom window.  That's a sound we don't want to hear since the sheep aren't supposed to be in our yard.  In this case I'd had them in what I thought was a secure pasture.  They'd recently escaped from there and I thought I'd figured out where and had "fixed" it.  I rounded the sheep up (this is right before I'm supposed to be heading out to work for the day).  They went back into the same paddock they'd escaped from.  I was walking part of the fence to make sure there weren't other holes in the fence when I heard the sheep "talking."  When one finds a gap they must feel inclined to share the good news with the other sheep.  I turned to see the source of the noise.  They were headed to a spot in the fence like they were going to get out.  I ran over there and, sure enough, there was a gaping hole in what I thought was woven wire in good shape.  The hole was big enough for a sheep to walk through standing up.  Usually, at least they have to expend a little effort going under or over part of a fence.  This hole was low to the ground and in a shadowy area so I'd missed it.  Twice.  I quickly repaired it with wire and rounded up the sheep that had just escaped again.  Even later for work.

What I didn't know when I'd herded them out of my front yard was that they'd already spent some time in my neighbor's garden.  This is a neighbor that is right across a driveway that we share.  Now, this wasn't the first time that I've found my sheep in my yard, or even their's.  But this was the first time they told me that the sheep had damaged their garden.  Apparently they'd been there awhile before I woke up because they told me the damage was extensive.  They're now not talking to us which is not a good thing.  These are good people.  They deserve much better.

So now, as I've reflected on "Mending Fences" a bit, I'm inspired to be a better neighbor and focus more time and effort on my fences.  The bad news is that kids (and even adults) sometimes don't latch gates.  Sometimes the weather is cruel and damages fences.  Sometimes age creeps up and the fences just plain fail over time but don't declare their fatigue out loud.  But I know I don't want my neighbors having a reason to be upset with us.  I also don't want my own animals eating our own raspberries and other veggie which they are wont to do on their way to annoying my neighbors. 

If Mr. Frost were still alive today and I were to meet him, I would assure him that, in fact, good fences would certainly contribute to being good neighbors.  In his absence, we'll continue to work towards repairing the relationships with our neighbors.

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