To my neighbors …

I’ve been thinking about fences lately; I apologize if you’ve seen me surreptitiously peeking at your backyards, trying to see your views and your fence arrangements. It’s really interesting what’s out there: mostly chain-link, with a few low wooden fences and the rare tall privacy fence.

There is a distinct feel to the chain-link yards that adjoin each other–there is shared space, distance to see, and neighbors to be aware of but still separated. I’m appreciating this “old-fashioned” foundation of community like never before. A neighbor of mine is contemplating putting up a privacy fence.

The view from my kitchen sink, from my dining room table, has for almost twenty years been a view of several backyards stretching into the distance, with a hodgepodge of trees and flowering bushes weaving the chain-link fences together and rendering them virtually invisible. In winter I see lawns of white and a sky full of lacy branches filled with snow. In summer it’s all green, and again there is that feeling of dimension and space beyond space.

I don’t know my neighbors much, really. I’m an introvert, so this isn’t a hippy-dippy plea for community. What I suddenly realize, now that the possible loss of it is upon me, is that there has been community in our shared backyard spaces. We have been unobtrusive with each other all these years–in other words, we’ve been good neighbors. And we’ve all been able to partake of this shared space, with all its daily and seasonal changes, and its sense of expanding our own little backyards. We’re not hemmed in, because a chain-link fence is the kind of “good fence” that makes “good neighbors.” This low-key arrangement has been a foundational characteristic of this neighborhood since it came into being in the 1960s.

I’m not going to go into any rant against privacy fences in general–because in certain situations and configurations they’re very acceptable and even necessary. I see some of those instances in the neighborhood, too.

But I don’t think privacy fences are right in most, or even many, situations, and I think we’ve lost sight of that. A huge loss accompanies the erection of a privacy fence. I wish we all could think about that a little more when that Lowe’s ad tempts us with its lovely promise of a red-cedar zone of privacy. There’s a lot more at stake than can be seen.