meanwhile, in suburbia

We’ve lived in our current house for 28 years. And for 27 and a half years, we’ve had a picket fence enclosing our back yard. We hired a local company to build it. Originally it was intended to contain our little children and their toys. Then came dogs (and even a bunny). We stained it dark green so that it would blend into the grassy color of the open yards behind and around ours. This was, apparently, unheard of. Even scandalous. No one stained a wooden fence in these parts! Cedar fences are apparently supposed to bleach into a uniform gray (uniformity being a hallmark of suburbia, of course). Even the man who built our fence couldn’t believe it when we had him out years later to talk about repairs. (He did not get the job!)

To me, a gray wooden fence just looks uncared for, like an unmown lawn or peeling paint. I suppose it was the way I was raised. I can remember spending good parts of my St. Louis boyhood summers, when I wasn’t in Kentucky at my grandparents’ farm, staining the privacy fence of our backyard. I can remember going to my sister’s house for a party and her husband being unable to join us because he had to finish staining his fence. Tom Sawyer is famous for his fence staining acumen. And as I’ve driven around suburbia, I have spotted the occasional stained fence. I’m not alone.

In the nearly three decades of the fence’s life, I’ve replaced at least half of the pickets, many of the posts, and most of the rails. It is my own Ship of Theseus. The wood rots. Insects invade. Plants grow in and through. Mishaps with bats and balls. (One neighbor boy used our fence as his backstop for pitching practice, and he openly stated that his goal one summer was to knock off the top of each picket. Fortunately, he was a poor pitcher.)

But in all of that time, I’ve never encountered the danger to the fence’s integrity that has suddenly arrived this year.

As you probably know, we have two dogs: Flike and Queequeg. No one has told them they are dogs, so they don’t consider themselves to be such. And so they will bark at other dogs with disdain. Our neighbor (beyond on green picket fence) now has two dogs. (One her son left with her after he moved out, though he’s moved back in again. The other she got because she didn’t want the first dog to be lonely.) They do know they are dogs, and they recognize Flike and Queequeg as dogs despite their airs. These two neighbor dogs would love nothing more dearly than to play with our dogs.

In our yard.

And so they have. One of the dogs, Archie, has learned that he can grab the 27-and-a-half-year-old pickets in his jaws and wrench them free. All he needs to do is get one of them out and he and the other dog can slip into our yard and romp through the flower beds. Great fun.

Flike and Queequeg go nuts at this intrusion, and we are out there ushering the dogs back into their yard and slamming a few more nails into the pickets. A couple of years ago we had bought a hundred spare pickets to use as the occasional need arose. Now with Archie at work, the few I had left are rapidly being put to use.

My neighbor apologizes for this, but it is happening now almost daily. Eventually, (after I buy more pickets I guess) I’ll have that entire side of the fence replaced. Sturdy enuf to withstand Archie for a few years, I hope.

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5 Comments on “meanwhile, in suburbia”


  1. Archie is clever! We have a chestnut brown stained fence, the pickets of which are spaced just close enough that my dog can’t slip between them. The builders measured his chest. Fortunately his jaws aren’t strong enough to eat the pickets.

  2. Annam Says:

    Would love to see pictures of the green picket fence!

  3. emily Says:

    Dogs do not understand fences. “Good fences make good neighbors” does not apply to dogs.

  4. Diane Says:

    It’s funny, I have the same mindset about suburban conformity – and it’s come to the opposite conclusion. Around here, staining is the Done Thing, and I quite prefer watching as my three-year-old fence (not picket style, but with horizontal boards instead) slowly greys gracefully. I like grey as it stands, and aged wood is beautiful to me, but I also look at the barium green and fake-cedar stained fences around me (the latter is like the color of a girl with a fake tan) and they seem weirdly cartoony to me. Dark green sounds nice, but I’ve never seen that; here, it’s all trying to look just like fresh lumber – which is not a good look on *old* lumber. 🙂

    My dog actually loves her fence. It’s hers, and she seems to know that, and she adores Her Yard. And, fortunately, we have no next-dog neighbors trying to join her in it!

  5. Libby Says:

    Archie looks part bull terrier and part pit bull


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