Pushing Boundaries

Most times when I talk to my neighbors there is some kind of physical barrier between us. Usually it’s a creek, barbed wire, a cattle gate or some combination of the three. They are usually working on one side. I am usually walking with my dog on the other. Fencing is a big deal around here, and the famous line from Robert Frost, “Good fences make good neighbors” often echoes in my mind when I am walking their mishmash, yet meticulously kept, fence lines. Recently I went back and read the whole of that poem, “Mending Wall,” and was struck by these words: “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.”

Metaphorical fences have occupied a lot of my inner work this past year. And unlike my neighbors, who have dozens and dozens of four-legged reasons to keep building and maintaining their fences, I have worked hard this year to dismantle some of those boundaries that no longer serve me. I have repeatedly asked myself Frost’s three implicit questions: what was I walling in? what was I walling out? and whom was I offending? The answers to these questions surprised me, as they were the same in practically every situation. Always, always, always, I was walling in myself – well, me and my fear. On the other side was a sense of freedom, usually some sort of creative self-expression. And the kicker – who was I offending? – no one!!! Nobody even knows the stupid fence exists except for me.

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I have a deep respect and an unabashed love for my neighbors, both the people they are and the work that they do. Back in the spring, I spent what I now refer to as “the lovely day” with two of them. They were cutting oats in the field that borders mine. It was one of those days that seems somehow suspended in time – long, languid and sweet. After they put in a hard day’s work – baling some 8,000 pounds of oats – we spent about an hour or so talking. That day was a touchstone for me – the balance of intense physical labor with easy conversation. The lesson that there is time for what is necessary.

So many times I wanted to capture that day on film – well, on my iPhone. But I was too embarrassed and afraid of what they would think. I surreptitiously took the shot above, but I was standing rather far away. It is one of the few photos I have ever edited for this blog. After that day, I decided I was going to muster my courage and take some proper pictures. I told myself they probably weren’t going to think anything – or anything worse than what they already think! The first time I asked my neighbor to take his picture, my hands were shaking so badly, the shot came out blurry. The second time, I simply said, “Don’t move,” and snapped the shot.

Fast forward a couple of months. I spent a Saturday evening in late summer with these same two neighbors. We were way back in the cow pasture, and I took 70 photographs. Most were of Holstein steers, but many of my neighbors too. That evening led to this post that I absolutely love. I love chronicling this part of my everyday life. My neighbors are an intimate part of this landscape that is so dear to my heart. So I will continue taking pictures of them on their side of the fence – mending barbed wire bare-handed, baling hay, working the land – while I enjoy the freedom I have found on the other side.

4 thoughts on “Pushing Boundaries

  1. Love it! At times I too want to mend some fences and at other times I can not build them fast enough. Inner work helps us realize how & when these fences need to come down or go up. Thanks for keeping us on track:) Looking forward to reading more

    • Boundaries are a funny thing, aren’t they? Necessary sometimes, and confining at others. I think you are right that the key is realizing which need to come up and which need to come down.

      I think I have a couple more posts in me about this topic.

      Love to you.

  2. Here’s a compliment: I never leave your blog without something to think about.

    I will also say that, although I understand it matters not what other people think, I will say that I love your photos. Your photos, especially on reflective fridays, stay with me for a long time. you know, I still somtimes see those jars of milk and think about what they mean? And that is not the only one.

    I’m looking forward to those “couple more posts” and to thinking more on what you have said, as well as what WaldorfSalad has said about sometimes walls do need to be built.

    I’m also looking forward to some more of your captivating images.

    • Thank you.

      I am still taking photos exclusively with my iPhone and every once in awhile I will toy with getting a real camera. I shot with film for the longest time (well into the digital age) and I still miss my nice big canon lens. Tom got a new digital camera for work and I am going to try that out soon. It is a point and shoot, but has a nice zoom on it. Although nothing beats having that iPhone in my pocket – it is so convenient.

      Glad the images stay with you. They stay with me too.

      Love to you.

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