The Old Stone Fence

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indianafrank

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Oct 15, 2014
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Levi Macken was sitting on a stone fence. He filled his clay pipe, and with a feeling of accomplishment he looked at the long expanse of fence line he had just finished building. He lit his pipe, and sipped the soothing nectar. Exhaling slowly, Levi blew the smoke through his lips. Feeling relieved he surveyed what he had accomplished.
It took Levi seven years to build the stone fence. It bordered his entire property. Twelve acres of land was now fenced in. It was hot, 90 degrees hot. The late afternoon sun baked his face as he sat smoking. Levi wiped the perspiration from his brow and puffed on his pipe. Two squirrels chased each other, chirping noisily as they scampered up a tree.
In 1855 there was no mechanical machinery to move the stones from the field. Nor was there any machinery to help stack the heavy boulders into place. Levi had to do all of that by hand. And when he was not removing heavy stones from his fields, then dragging them by oxen, and lifting them into place for the fence, he was tending to his home.
Seven years ago Levi, his wife, and two young children began to settle in the woods of the east. They were ready to begin a new life. He cleared his land and used the timber to build his home. He tilled his land to grow crops. Levi also built a barn to house his oxen and tools.
The nearest town and neighbor were five miles away. The road they used to go to and from their home was a muddy path just wide enough for his oxen to pull his wagon. The family had to be self sufficient. During all that time, Levi continued to build that stone fence.
He walked to his barn. His pipe clenched between his teeth. Levi had built the barn while he was building his home. Now, seven years later the barn needed some repairs. He stopped momentarily to relight his pipe. He looked at the barn door which had broken off its large hinges. He knew what to do. He walked into the barn. There was a bench along one wall. It was built of the same barn wood that was used to build the barn.
Levi relit his clay pipe and walked to the bench. There was a mason jar on top of the bench. The jar was once used to hold the jam made by Levi, and his wife. Now it was filled with square nails of different sizes. He picked up the bottle, grabbed a hammer, and walked to the barn door.
While the entire time puffing on his pipe, Levi repaired the door. The door swung freely as he opened and closed it. The hinge was once again securely in place.
Levi walked to a small creek that flowed behind the barn. He sat down on a flat rock in front of the tiny stream. The clay pipe needed refilling. He reached into his shirt pocket and removed a pouch of tobacco. Dipping his pipe into the pouch he filled the bowl, gently pressed down on the tobacco, and then struck a wooden match to light it. As he lightly sipped it's grandeur he glanced at the tranquil beauty of his property. Everything, he thought, was as it should be.

 

indianafrank

Preferred Member
Oct 15, 2014
950
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You can hear the Silence.
Brad, yes, having spent years in those areas of the "old stone fences" the silence is deafening...And the peace and tranquility is even louder.

 

mso489

Preferred Member
Feb 21, 2013
26,587
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That reminds me of Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall," about working with a neighbor to re-stack the stone fence/wall between neighboring farms. If you chance to re-read this, please remember, the repeated phrase "good fences make good neighbors" is not the persona (main character of the poem) nor the poet speaking, but the stolid old traditionalist neighbor. This is the most misquoted poem in the American canon, for that line. However, Frost is perpetually complex, so he is not without sympathy for that sentiment, but not agreeing either. That's how he became "great" and read at the JFK swearing-in. He always wrote with complexity, perplexity, and depth. You have to heat up the brain circuitry and deal with conflicting visions.

 

indianafrank

Preferred Member
Oct 15, 2014
950
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mso489
However, Frost is perpetually complex, so he is not without sympathy for that sentiment, but not agreeing either.
Yes, Frost was complex. And the line “good fences make good neighbors” needs to be looked at in the context of the time period the walls were built.
Most of the stone walls in the east were built from the late mid 1700’s to the mid 1800’s. This is the time the east was being settled. Town laws were put in place that basically stated that for tax purposes, to collect the proper amounts from property owners, properties had to have marked boundaries with stone fences no lower that 4 foot high. Each month a fence walker would walk the boundaries of the fence, surveying, and making sure the fences were of adequate height, and had no breaks in them. And, Frosts line, “good fences make good neighbors” could have read, “good fences make good tax revenue.”
In addition, Frosts poem, where he writes, “Isn't it Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.”
However, cows, goats, and sheep were old colonial homestead staples. Those stone fences were needed to keep the animals from roaming free. The animals were also why the majority of the old properties with stone fences had barns as well as homes.
Frost’s “Mending Wall” poem was penned much later than when those fences were being built for tax revenue purposes. Frost, I believe, saw the stone fences in a different light than what they were actually intended for.

 

jorchamp

Member
Mar 21, 2016
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Where I live there are stone walls all around. They never cease to impress with their presence and their light and shadows. How did they seem to those who build them?

 

indianafrank

Preferred Member
Oct 15, 2014
950
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jorchamp -
How did they seem to those who build them?
Our first settlers were very proud of what they had accomplished. Moving into, and then establishing a way of life in such rugged terrain wasn't easy. I'm sure those whose built the fences were well pleased with their results.

 
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