My train of thought rarely chugs a straight track, so bear with me. We're going to skip from trees to fences to neighbors to the election.
We start with the hackberry next door, cheek by jowl with my back fence.
Its leaves, I began to see, were falling into dark, ugly clumps around my camellias.
Next, I noticed a thick, black coating on the potted lime tree I'd grown from seed.
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Diagnosis: Aphids on the hackberry. I called a tree company, then asked my neighbor for permission to start treatment.
She insisted on paying. I insisted. Back and forth we went. So polite, so Charlotte. True, it's her tree. But it's my problem. And, technically, the one with the problem is the one responsible.
Once again I was grateful for such a good neighbor. And the word “neighbor” leads us to Robert Frost's “Mending Wall,” and Frost's crusty neighbor who insists, contrary to what the poet believes, that, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Wait. Is there a time when Frost's neighbor is right – that walls make the heart grow fonder?
Absolutely. At Morrison Library last week, on a warm, sunny day, those waiting to vote were cheerful and chatty and their walls were intact.
Not one person – in more than an hour – mentioned a candidate or taxes or the war. Not one said Dow or dollar. Or quoted Rush or the two codgers in the rocking chairs.
Instinctively, we had “set the wall between us,” Democrats and Republicans and all the rest. Or, more accurately, we had set the wall between our thoughts and our tongues.
I've seen one or two recent partisan blowups. Hot words hurled across a table do not persuade. They curdle the cream in the coffee.
A friend in Raleigh, a Democrat, confided that her ex-husband is a Republican, as are both her daughters. “But one has promised to vote for Obama,” she wrote. “Don't mention this to her dad. It could cause a rift.”
In her case, good fences are worth their weight.
“Something there is that doesn't love a wall,” Frost grouses in the first line. And later, shaping his argument: “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 offence.”
I'm not fond of walls myself. But in these turbulent pre-election days, a wall can wall out rudeness, myopia, prejudice, self-righteousness, arrogance, ignorance and maybe an uppercut or two.
I'd say that between now and Nov. 4: “Something there is that better love a wall.”