When we first moved here to the Arizona desert eons ago I had a learning curve to scale. It took a bit of time, but I got used to the oddities. Lizards, crickets, scorpions, white flies, warm water coming out of the cold tap, the juxtaposition of police helicopters at night and roosters crowing in the morning, running errands after the sun went down or before it rose in the morning, the pungent odor of dairy farms, pine trees in the same yard as palm trees, and monsoons that involved no rain whatsoever.
Assorted other desert adaptations for survival became necessary, but I think I’ve blocked those from my memory.
One of the first things I said to myself when I made the mistake of running to the grocery store at noon was, “who in their right mind would start a settlement here and then stay in this inferno?”
No one answered me.
I figured whoever decided that this was a good place for a town, and then another town and then a dozen or two more, most likely was suffering from some heat exhaustion or heat stroke. That was the only explanation.
I imagine the land was a great deal too. Kind of like those real estate plots in the Everglades.
But I digress. Sorry, it’s been a long, long, long, long, long, long summer. I think someone mentioned breaking records, but I’m sure they meant CD’s or DVD’s.
The point I was trying to make was there’s this oddity I don’t recall seeing in other parts of the country where I’ve lived.
Most everyone in the country appears to believe Robert Frost’s adage that “good fences makes good neighbors.”
Oklahoma had chain link fences, but then, they’re a really friendly bunch. They pretty much adopt you into their family right after you’ve made introductions. So the fence is really more of a dog deterrent than anything.
There were long expanses of six-foot tall wooden fences in North Carolina. Mine, mine, mine seemed the word each nail punctuated in those fences. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the people alright, but boundaries seemed very important and well-defined. But then I lived there less than a year. I’m open for discussion on this one if you’re from Charlotte, or parts thereabouts.
The Seattle area employed a combination of wood and chain link depending on the neighborhood. Those fences seemed more of a suggestion than a real threat or barrier.
By contrast, here in the desert, the fences are really walls. Six foot high cement block walls. I still haven’t figured out what that means. Go away and leave me alone? I’ll stay on my side and you stay on yours and we’ll get along just fine? I have a room full of guns and I’m not afraid to use them?
What I noticed, early on after moving here were the cats on top of these lovely interconnected walls. The cats made really good time from one section of the neighborhood to the other and stayed well out of reach of any dogs. In fact, I believe they stopped and taunted dogs as often as time and speed allowed. I took to calling the walls “cat highways.”
Just last year I realized that teenagers had adapted and learned by watching the cats. They frequently scale the walls and run along the tops to get to where ever they want to go. Not sure if they taunt the dogs, though.
It’s important to know that the top edge of the wall is only six inches wide. The kids I know who do this seem oblivious to the possibility of falling, trespassing, irritating a rabid neighbor or injuring their often bare toes and feet. But then, most teenagers are oblivious to most things not orbiting their own personal universe. (No disrespect intended, just stating a fact.)
I guess if you live in the desert you adapt, change, melt a little, and do whatever it takes to survive.
You use what nature and construction offer and you run with it. Or, in this case, you run on it.
My take on it all? Extra good fences make good neighbors and in some cases, really good shortcuts.
Just in case you were wondering, here’s the actual poem by Frost that I was referring to. I consider it an astounding work of art. Enjoy. Read it out loud! It rolls in a warm wave and fills the room with the scent of an open meadow, pines and apple blossoms. At least in my mind it does.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
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.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”Robert Frost