Thursday, July 2, 2009


Nogales, Arizona, 2006

We all have borders in our lives. When we’re younger, they’re referred to as “limits” and our parents set them. When we’re older we’re told to “stay within the lines,” and society defines the borders.

I’ve had many fences in my life. Some were metaphorical, and easily toppled when I realized that. The real ones—they come in all sizes and shapes: pickets, wire, stockade, split rail and cast iron—I’ve tried to use sparingly. Good fences can make for good neighbors. But I’ve tried to live in places where good relationships with neighbors didn’t require hard physical barriers. Besides, I’ve been suspicious of fences ever since I fell on a fence post when I was in sixth grade, breaking my nose, deviating a septum and therein becoming one of the youngest snorers in history.

Our first house came surrounded by a hostile and unsightly chain link fence. Within weeks of moving in I started dismantling the chain link fence and replacing it with hedges and, where fencing was necessary, a wooden fence. Almost immediately, neighbors who’d been cool to us up to then warmed up.

Most of the property where we live now is either wooded, covered over with gardens and ground cover or under water. We like our neighbors, but there is enough vegetation between most of us to provide ample privacy. We have only one short run of fence, but even it is hidden behind vegetation.

The photograph of the international border at Nogales, Arizona, above, was taken, coincidentally enough, on the same day that tens of thousands of people in cities throughout the country were protesting the Bush Administration’s stance on immigration. I didn’t know this because I was in my own little self-imposed media blackout, literally walking along the international border in Nogales, a focal point for illegal border crossings so busy that there are frequent roadblocks on the Interstate highway north out of town to check vehicles. I tried to talk with some of the border guards; in Nogales, you’re never out of the sight of one. They were politely professional, but not forthcoming with any casual chat.

There’s another little bit of irony attached to this photograph. A year after I took it I was contacted by a private foundation in Israel, a country that has its own issues with borders and walls. The foundation asked for permission to use the photograph in a new science textbook it provides to all Israeli middle schoolers. I was happy to share the photograph for educational purposes. But I insisted on written assurance that the photograph would be used to advance the cause of breaking down walls between people rather than creating walls between them.


  1. Chris, another great combination of words and picture in which one just adds to the other, with no redundancy.

    By the way, in "Mending Wall," Frost makes a little pun which he must have been aware of:

    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.

    Offence = a fence?

  2. Very good !!!
    See and
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