Yesterday, I was out for a walk in our neighborhood. I walked down the hill to the water. The trek to the water takes you through a little quiet neighborhood with a lot of history. Some of it is still Puyallup land. Some of it is not. Checkerboard rez land in a suburban environment.
Over the last few years, the neighborhood has changed. That’s normal for any community, yeah? But the changes I noticed yesterday kind of set me back on my heels for a moment. Along some of the streets I noticed that there are fences being built. Tall fences. Like, ‘this is my personal compound’ kind of fences. I also noticed a lot of “private property” signs where none had previously existed. A few days ago, someone mentioned to me that the gate at the “community center” didn’t use to be there, although it’s been up ever since we moved here.
Fences. They are an interesting invention of the colonized mind. Put up a fence – are you keeping someone/something out? Or in? Is a fence a promise of safety? Or an illusion of safety?
I started to wonder about the people who put up this huge fence which completely surrounded their property. Who lives there? What is the need for such seclusion? And my mind wandered into other thoughts….like, how we create fences in our hearts. When we build those fences: are we keeping something out? Or in? What other ways do we segregate ourselves from each other? And what goodness do we keep out by shutting ourselves out or away? Then I realized, at that moment, I’m plugged in to a device with ear buds in my ears, and I’m shut off from interactions with the world outside of that device and my mind. Hmmm. What do I not want to hear?
My feet carried me farther up the road, past another house with a different kind of fence. This property is surrounded by trees and plants. There is a small fence, but mostly you see trees. More important to this particular story, was the SMELL of this fence. A mimosa tree – with the prettiest pink, fragrant flowers grabbed my attention in a very real and alive way! My heart soared with each inhale and I would surely have lingered there for hours but for the fear of being seen as a lunatic. (For the record, normally I’m ok with being seen as a lunatic, but people are weird right now, so….)
In that moment I realized that there are certain things that fences can’t keep out. The fragrance of a flower. The song of a bird. The bark of a dog. The bunny, the squirrel, the raccoon, the cat….all defy the parameters of a fence. Therefore, what power does a fence really have? If these beautiful energies are immune to the fence, why do we insist on fences?
This country was inhabited by peoples who, for thousands of years, knew each other’s territories, and for the most part, honored those territories without the need for fences. There were boundaries and those boundaries were maintained with a person’s honor. The people understood that beauty, whatever form it takes, needs to be free. What’s more, the freedom required by beauty, being honored, was repaid in magnificent and life-supporting ways.
We have big problems in this world. Now, I’m not naive. I’m not so idealistic that I can’t see the real challenges that wicked problems present. I do believe, though, that we live lives that are improperly aligned, within self-imposed borders of illusory safety and self-induced seclusion, at our soul’s peril.
I am not naive and I believe that we would be wise to start looking at those fences. What fences can we tear down that would help us build stronger, more dynamic families and communities?
That’s enough for tonight.