I don’t know my neighbors. I can’t name the family, two roads down whom, I passed turning off of their road last evening. They were bundled up – mother and daddy and two of their kin but, if you asked me their names I couldn’t even fake it with a “There go the Smiths from Pruter Street, off to the races again”
Thirty years rooted to the same plot of land, this place, is home, where I have seen trees felled and blossoms fall. I could trace the valley of my piece of hill and, the contours of every pothole and breakaway that has diverted traffic, with an index finger. Each foot path, shady spot and grove is as real to me as the silvery moon which beckons one last long goodbye before it slips silently ‘neath the early morning sky. This land is my home; its smells and swells and thickets. It holds my memories and supports my dreams and yet, the people here are like a sleeping policeman on a lonely stretch of road. They serve a purpose to be sure. I just can’t think of one.
I spend more hours in front of a computer, on twitter, Facebook and wordpress than I care to admit, but I can’t remember the last time I shook hands with a neighbor or said howdie do. Which brings me to Mr. Frost. He wrote mending wall in 1914 while living in England and desperately missing his New Hampshire farm. Frost can neither explain nor understand the need for a wall between the properties. The poem acknowledges certain inconsistencies in human society. It questions the prevailing sentiment of the time – Good fences make good neighbors and, its unnatural fit on a plot of land with nothing but trees – pine and apple. Ironically by the end of the poem we find the narrator just as tied to unnecessary traditions as his neighbor who insists on the wall. It is he [the narrator] who mends it throughout the year, sets the dates for them to get together to mend large gaps. It is he who seems most invested in keeping this unnatural blight alive.
I suppose the poem resonates with me is because, I feel such a connection to all things bush, more so than to the bipeds and talkers around me. A lush green spot, a river and I am home again. Something about the land, and the green, and the water, restores me. And while, yes we do have property lines, the walls which come to mind are terabytes and codes. So much time is spent connecting and reconnecting with friends around the world but nothing gets said, except of course the mean, uncensored and unsolicited diatribes of faceless experts populating the inter-webs. In Jamaica we would say “eye nuh mek four all now” a matter I am sure smarter than I will dedicate a whole post to.
But if I were honest, I would declare ambivalence. It’s been a while since I read the poem in question and I don’t suggest that walls are bad things; they do keep us separated but, then again they keep us civil don’t they? Ask anyone whose neighbor has an annoying or dangerous dog. The Indians put it another way “Love your neighbor, but do not throw down the dividing wall“ It seems I have put up several walls but, Jim screeched my way round the love your neighbor bit. So here comes next year’s New Year’s resolution, six months early. ”Love your neighbor, but do not throw down the dividing wall“
North Of Boston 1915
Image: “Mending Wall” by Ken Fiery, 2007, from the Robert Frost Series