From Barriers to Bridges

By The Neighbor
Minnesota, USA

From Barriers to Bridges

My neighbor Steve works for the U.S. Postal service and puts in long hours. When he’s home, he takes good care of his house and yard, keeps beautiful shrub roses, and is friendly with our family and others on our block. Mostly, he spends time with his family — but he makes a difference all around our neighborhood.

Before we moved in, our house was rented to a family of four active children and two absent parents. To reduce noise and protect his yard from damage, Steve built a tall fence between our back yards. The fence was cedar boards, with dog-eared pickets on alternating sides of horizontal rails. Our local lumberyard sells this pattern in sections, under the name “Good Neighbor.”

It was February in Minnesota when we arrived, a time most people stay indoors day and night due to the cold weather. We had little chance to meet our neighbors. As spring came and the weather warmed, we started to get acquainted. To the south of us are Ray and Rosie, who have lived in their house over 50 years and are both retired. To the north is Steve.

As Steve and I talked, we could only see each other if we were in our front yards. The fence in back was too tall for either of us to see over. Before too long, it was obvious the fence was getting in the way of a new friendship. But it belonged to Steve, so I didn’t say anything.

One day after working overtime for several days, Steve had a weekday off at the same time I did. He suggested we take the fence down in sections, cut two feet off the bottom edge, shorten the posts, and put the sections back up. That would let us see and hear each other without removing the fence completely. The project only took a few hours, and the results were great.

Inspired by the new look, I built a matching cedar fence for the other open sides of our yard. The pickets were only available in six-foot lengths, so I cut them all to four feet and saved the scrap.

Steve took all the remaining two-foot boards and started building birdhouses. By the time he finished using all the leftover cedar, he had made 99 nesting boxes for songbirds. He gave them away all over our neighborhood.

In his poem “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost wrote a line that became famous: “Good fences make good neighbors.” He meant that by taking care of our own homes, we show our respect for the homes of others. But Steve extended his caretaking far beyond the borders of his property lines, giving useful ornaments to people nearby, and bringing new shelter to the birds.

Seeing the example Steve has set, I think Frost had it backward. Good neighbors make good fences — and good friends.

Originally published as HeroicStories #674 on Sep 16, 2006

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