The Stone Walls of Connecticut

Even though I grew up in Connecticut, whenever I’m back here I’m always amazed and delighted by the stone walls that seem to be everywhere. They decorate the front yards of houses, they mark the boundaries between yards, they’re in parks and around ponds. And in some cases they show up in the middle of woods, running  helter-skelter among the trees, with boulders missing or entire sections gone.

New England is a rocky place. If you dig down six or eight inches you’ll hit stones and rocks and maybe the top of a boulder. Anyone who has ever cleared a New England field knows that. Decades ago, farmers put those boulders to use, building walls that marked the boundaries between pastures or farms. But those farms are gone and nature has taken over many of the old fields, filling the land with trees. Still, the walls are there, silent reminders of a time when they served an important purpose.

Robert Frost, one of my favorite poets, wrote Mending Wall about neighbors, the wall between their properties, and the difference in how they each viewed the wall. I think it’s one of his best poems.

Mending Wall
By Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
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 offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’