Friday, September 1, 2006
Fences and offences
"Good fences make good neighbors." So claims Robert Frost's classic poem, "Mending Wall."
Well, sometimes. In the case of my friend in a neighboring town, turmoil over a new fence threatens to equal the border dispute between Israel and Lebanon. Here's the scenario: new young neighbors (NYN) moved into an expensive house and almost immediately hired a fence company to install a chain-link fence between their property and my friend's — without informing my friend. Not only is a chain-link fence terminally ugly, but this fence will have a gate — opening into my friend's yard, presumably so that the NYN can short-cut across her property to the main street. After a brief confrontation with my friend, the NYN marched away in high dudgeon. "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know," wrote Robert Frost, "What I was walling in or walling out/ And to whom I was like to give offence [sic]." The proposed new fence did give offense, and as yet only the posts have been installed.
A fence that gave no offense succumbed to old age recently. The tall stockade fence that obscured Heald House on Concord Street for several decades had lately been sagging precariously. In fact, it was buttressed by a thick rope attached to a tree. A few weeks ago, the Carlisle Historical Society (which owns the property) took down the fence before it fell down. With the fence removed, the front of the graceful house, built in 1788, once again looks out onto Concord Street, and its newly renovated barn is again a visible reminder of Carlisle as a farm community.
Seeing the fence stacked up on Concord Street, a neighbor stopped by with an offer to give it a new home on one of his other properties. With luck, the old fence will be spared a humiliating fate at the dump and will live to see another day.
Frost speaks of a stone wall, its gaps made by nature and by "the work of hunters." Carlisle lands are full of stone walls in every state of repair and disrepair. When the town was young, they delineated farmers' pastures, and split rail fences kept livestock in place. A town appointee, the fence viewer, made sure that fences were kept in good repair to prevent roaming livestock. That position continues today, but its incumbent has little to do.
Carlisleans who live on two or more acres of land don't need fences to separate us from our neighbors. Because woods, hedges, stone walls and streams provide natural boundaries, we lack a neighborly fence across which to exchange occasional pleasantries the way people do on TV or in films. The occasional roadside fences that obscure houses wall out traffic noise, but are not intended to wall out people.
Robert Frost would approve.
It is true that most of us like living in Carlisle because it has a little of a lot, not much of anything and many of the things that we value are endangered (and sometimes we think we are doing our best to protect them). Often our best efforts are thwarted.
High on the list might be affordable housing (thwarted for the moment by the appearance of mysterious salamanders), bobolinks (sometimes thwarted by early pasture management), perceived neighborhood improvements (thwarted by neighbors with a different opinion) and farming (thwarted by the economy and misunderstanding).
So, as an organic farmer and a Conservation Commission member of long standing, let me speak from the heart. One of the main objectives of the Conservation Commission, in my opinion, is to protect and preserve the opportunity for successful agriculture in our small burg. I also believe that every farmer has the right to grow and sell the fruits of his or her labor (a right also protected by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts). There are certain conservation lands in Carlisle that are historically agricultural and should remain so. Amongst these parcels are Greenough, Foss, Fox Hill, Bisbee and others (part of the recently acquired Benfield land, for example).
The Conservation Commission reviews the agricultural management plans for these parcels regularly, establishes policy and invites public comment. ConsCom has long-standing relationships with the few farmers who remain in town. They are, to a person, good and well-meaning individuals with no ill intent to harm the citizenry of our town, nevermind the neighbors.
In an effort to improve management of our numerous conservation lands, the Conservation Commission has gathered a dedicated and diverse group of individuals (known as "stewards") who are currently engaged in inventorying and assessing the use and management of every parcel for which the Commission is charged with responsibility. This is an arduous and difficult task and the stewards have undertaken it with vigor, astounding thoroughness and dedication. I am grateful for their hard work.
Recently in a number of towns in our area, there has been some confusion about the role of stewards, farmers and the appropriate use of conservation parcels in agriculture. Land under conservation is conserved for a variety of purposes, not all of which are necessarily compatible with every person's perceived need or "right" to use a parcel. Farmers who negotiate with the Conservation Commission for the management of certain parcels are entitled to the bounty arising from their investment of time, money and other resources as agreed upon with the Conservation Commission. This may include fencing to keep out predators, sprays and other amendments used to control insects, weeds or diseases. It might be worth noting that organic farmers use similar practices (if not products) in an effort to keep their farms afloat.
Environmental management in any populated area is always subject to debate. Such debate belongs in front of the Conservation Commission where it would get a full and fair hearing — as did the state and the Pedestrian Pathways Committee when they had issues relating to management in resource areas.
© 2006 The