My neighbor just built a new fence. Rather, he built a wall as if he is expecting an attack from the Vandals and Visigoths. It is a beautiful wall constructed of river rock by the many wall artists in these parts. The wall is taller than I am. At occasional intervals iron gates interrupt the wall and an electronic keyboard sits near the gate handle. It is a wall that could be in “Game of Thrones.”
I get it. People want privacy and security. And I get that there are no places that are totally safe from bad people, even in our beautiful valleys. But I’m not sure I like it. A big part of the charm of wine country is that it is open. The vistas are open, the neighbors are open and welcoming, and the wine bottles are always open. In a perfect world there would be no fences at all. We would admire the vineyards and the hills and the homes without having to peer around corners and through fences. We could visit neighbors without having to go around the fence. What fun. Since there is no stopping the fence building, what are some sensible and non-sensible options? Here are a few ideas:
— Deer fence — Old reliable but lacks appeal on the aesthetic side. The fence is difficult to see, which is good and it does keep the deer out. It keeps the tourists out, too.
— Snow Fence – What should be a temporary safety solution on construction sites has morphed into permanent on some properties. Since it doesn’t snow here much this is the fence that should be placed on the burn pile when construction is complete.
— The White Picket Fence – Norman Rockwell meets wine country. The white picket fence surrounding the white charming farmhouse is everyone’s dream. This is the fence usually featured on the front page of the real estate books.
— Nickel and Nickel Fence – This white painted fence is in a class by itself. It makes the valley better.
— Chain Link Fence – I always look for a basketball court behind this model. It’s best to plant ivy on it so it disappears.
— Barbed-Wire Fence — Probably overkill to keep the tourists away from the grapes.
— Split Rail Fence – Although it reminds me of a Civil War battle, this fence can look good. It just needs to surround the right kind of place. Doesn’t work around modular homes.
— Wooden Vertical Plank Fence — This one seems to be catching on, not in a good way. This fence is all about privacy, like the too-tall rock wall except made of wood. The fence draws a box around the property that says “leave us alone, I am with my dog repairing my tractor.”
— The Invisible Fence — Although the dogs don’t like it much, it is my personal favorite.
Variations on all of these options can look good. The low rock wall is appealing and some of the iron fences are works of art. Some fences are as simple as a stake in the ground with a “No Trespassing” sign on it. Most of us will always opt for the fence with the lowest maintenance. Maybe that’s why the white picket fence is a rarity. And we are never fooled by the plastic white picket fence.
The most important factors in choosing a fence are: 1. that the fence serves its purpose (keeps the cattle in); 2. fits with the house (Victorian fence for the Victorian cottage) and, 3. doesn’t make the valley look like a subdivision. That’s all.
Before breaking ground for that new fence, remember what Robert Frost famously said, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” That wall can probably be OK as long as it’s not too tall.
Rich Moran is a writer who thinks about things like walls and gates.