by Cynthia Welte
Rosie, a raccoon, casually walked beside us as we had lunch in the yard at the start of the pandemic. She waddled under the weeping tamarack, on one side of the chain-link fence and on the other, head first on the six-foot metal grating. His hands and feet gripped the links easily. We saw her swollen and saggy nipples from tending to her brood. If it was a wooden fence, I wouldn’t have seen her underneath, not known to call her “Mom.”
We treasure our home and fenced back yard in Beacon Hill, a space we have used and enjoyed all the more during the pandemic. Our little sanctuary is surrounded by the almost invisible geometric diamonds of a chain-link fence. We can see through, but still keep strangers away and keep a dog inside (if we ever get a dog).
I’ve despised our fence ever since we bought our house 15 years ago. Galvanized steel is dull and has jagged edges that catch your clothes if you get too close. If it twists, like a paper clip, it is impossible to return to its native shape. Chain-link fences are institutional. They evoke buildings or abandoned land overgrown with weeds. They are climbed by teenagers. They signal efficiency, or poverty, or both. Chain-link fences are one of the first things to do when a neighborhood gentrifies.
Over the years, my husband and I have debated replacing our fence. I felt exposed, my garden and my activities exposed to anyone walking down the aisle. I lamented the appearance, I feel like it doesn’t represent the home status I had envisioned for myself. I lobbied for a wooden fence for elegance and privacy. My husband prefers the chain link. And because it would be so expensive, if not pointless, to replace a perfectly functional fence, his side always won. He admits the morning glory shrouding the tiny diamonds is irritating, but he likes being part of the aisle, not out of it.
Over the years, my judgment has softened. I got used to it, then forgot to be bothered by it, and lately I started to see the fence as a kind of fun.
Rosie and her babies move around with the relative silence necessary to be a wild animal in town, but when they rush over my fence, I hear them. Clink, clang, ting, tinnn. The sound is not constant like a wind chime. You can hear the soft click as the door is opened and closed, announcing visitors like the bells of a store door. Squirrels leaping on top create tinkling chimes, and crows landing and taking off make it chirp as it sways under their weight.
We borrow views of the adjacent gardens. We chat with our friends across the alley or meet a new family as they unload boxes a few houses up. And people can also see inside, so we wave or nod. I noticed a woman peeking through the fence of my house, and it turns out she had taken piano lessons in my living room about 50 years ago. With fingers gently poking through the squares, we met a neighbor’s sweet dog, Jellybean.
City life requires a certain willingness to share space. We get to know our neighbors a bit, say hello and talk about the gardens or local building updates, feed the cats and bring packages when they’re on vacation. But because we are so close, there is also a kind of pretense. I pretend not to notice their comings and goings, they pretend not to hear my conversations. For things I don’t want to see through the fence, like garbage cans, I grow plants to hide them.
And plants love the chain-link fence. They have something to climb, which is annoying with morning glory, but helpful with my starry jasmine who can’t seem to grab anything on her own. Clematis climbs it with ease. Shrubs and perennials stretch across the fence, softening the straight lines.
Where a wooden fence would provide shade, strawberries grow in the sun. With a small garden like ours, we can’t afford to block the sunlight.
It’s not just a utility fence, or jails, or schools, or basketball courts. It is a fence built from light and sound, perfect for permeable living.
It took me years, but now I’m enjoying our chain-link fence. It allows me to commune with the plants, the birds, the animals, the weather, and the neighbors down the lane. To observe cobwebs and gently perched hummingbirds. To make friends, or at least share space.
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📸 Featured image by Priyash Vasava/Unsplash.com.
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