"Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above. Don't fence me in." - Cole Porter
Recently, I was catching up with a friend and former co-worker via e-mail. As friends who haven't spoken for a while often do, we talked about what we had been up to of late.
One of the things I have been up to is getting out with the family in our fifth-wheel trailer every weekend we can. So far this year, we have managed nearly 30 nights with at least 12 or 13 more planned.
In mentioning that, I reflected on the feeling that I am more outgoing and more social when we are in a campground with our trailer, than we are in our own neighborhood. I put forth the notion that at least part of that may be due to the fact that there are usually few if any fences inside a campground.
In a campground you and your neighbors are truly neighbors in a much more communal way than in any kind of residential development or neighborhood. On our last outing, we met a nice couple from nearby Nampa and ended up sitting and talking for an hour or two. I don't really see that happening in most neighborhoods.
There is, of course, a shared common bond of being outdoors, but people are outdoors in their back yards all the time, and I doubt if they talk to anyone but their spouse or children or pet. I think the fences have a lot to do with that.
Fences serve a number of functions. They help to keep your pets from invading the yard of another. They also help to delineate property lines. In other words, they keep others out. They also keep you in, to some extent.
Fences compartmentalize us and separate us and perhaps isolate us as well. They make it easier for shy people to keep to themselves. And of course, they protect our privacy.
In our homes behind our fenced yards, we are a very private people. I don't get to know you; you don't get to know me. We shut each other out and remain complete strangers. We become compartmentalized, in a way.
In a campground, the lack of fences removes one barrier to conversation and interaction. We are taken out of our fenced compartments and put into the mix with others who have been taken out of their compartments. The setting and the circumstances are more conducive to interaction, and as a result, we often find ourselves interacting with others, others we might never talk to if they were on the other side of the fence from us.
America, especially the West, espouses the notion of "rugged individualism." Privacy is an important piece of that concept. Yet we are also at some level a communal people. The Declaration of Independence, after all, begins with the phrase "We the people," not "I, one person."
Fences serve to remove a part of us from our inner being. When I am in a campground with my family and with no fences, I rediscover and reconnect with that missing piece. I find myself more at ease, more at peace, and more at one with my surroundings. I feel more whole.
I'm not necessarily suggesting we all tear down the fences around our yards. But it might be a good idea if we stepped out from behind those fences (physical, mental, and emotional) once in a while and looked at the world and the people beyond our fences. You might feel a little lighter if you do. I know I do.