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The Best Defense

The other night we watched an intriguing show on television – “Frontier House,” the PBS version of reality TV. In this series three modern families travel back in time to the 1880s and learn to live on the frontier without modern conveniences.

As the camera panned across the picturesque valley in a remote corner of Montana, there was one aspect of frontier life that immediately caught my attention.

“There aren't any fences!” I marveled to my spouse. “Imagine that.”

Obviously the old saying, “good fences make good neighbors,” wasn't as old as I thought! Still, a world without fences didn't seem like a good idea when one's next-door neighbors include ground hogs, foxes, deer, raccoons, and opossums.

Fences, mind you, aren't foolproof. I spend quite a bit of my time modifying fences to keep assorted creatures both in and out.

The fence around our goat pasture is a case in point. We do, in fact, purchase fence staples by the case. I would venture to guess that our goat fence has as many layers as an archeological dig in Egypt. (I have no doubt that archeologists at some future date will be greatly puzzled by the remains of our fence.) Every layer, I might add, has a goat escape story behind it, which is basically what you see of the goat as they hightail it over or through the fence to freedom.

Here and there various other items have been incorporated into our goat fence design – two by fours, metal fence posts, scraps of plywood and other assorted building materials – all a testimony to goat ingenuity, as well as a goat's steadfast belief that the grass is indeed greener on the other side.

Our garden fence is another work-in-progress.

The first year we attempted to raise a garden in the middle of the woods, we sowed and hoed while our four-legged neighbors reaped the rewards. While deer munched our beans, the rabbits nibbled the cabbage, raccoons made off with the corn, and chickens (our own, I might add) finished off what was left.

It was time to apply the “good fence, good neighbor” rule.

The following spring we waved magnanimously as the deer trotted down the hill toward the garden. We knew something they didn't – we had enclosed the entire area with a sturdy 48-inch fence.

“Wait until those deer see that livestock fence we put around our garden,” I chortled to my spouse.

Unfortunately, deer aren't livestock. They saw our new fence from the air – as they sailed over it without as much as a running start.

It was time to up the vegetable ante, not to mention the height of our fence. With the addition of two by fours nailed to each fencepost, our garden fence soared to an impressive height of eight feet. Unfortunately, the determination of our woodland neighbors to get to inside that fence also reached new heights as well.

I can't help but wonder how the homesteaders of a century ago, sans fence, managed to put any food on the table at all. I suppose that since homesteaders ate wild game, and their dinner came with garden veggies already included so to speak, it was an all-in-one-package deal.

I don't know about the homesteaders, but I prefer my vegetables a la carte. As a result our garden fence continues to undergo new and improved fortifications. Another one was added just this week thanks to Sadie, our five-month-old Husky puppy.

Sadie challenged our fences from the first the day she set a paw in the back yard. Over the years, a number of canines of varied sizes and breeds have enjoyed the large dog-romping area we fenced between the house and the garden, but Sadie immediately headed for the fence and tried to wiggle through it. We spent most of Sadie's first afternoon on the farm fortifying the fence.

As Sadie grew so did her aspirations of escaping.

“How did Sadie get in the garden?” my spouse inquired as we were weeding a row of beans last weekend.

Sadie, I should explain, is a dog with only two speeds: feet-in-the-air, dead-to-the-world asleep or – let's pull a sled! With or without sled, our tender rows of plants are no match for a Husky puppy.

It was back to square one and more “squares” of fencing!

I was reminded of “Frontier House” as I headed to the barn for a roll of fence wire. I will admit to a few wistful thoughts about a world without fences.

Healthcliff, nibbling on a clump of grass on the other side of the fence, looked at me and winked. Leave it to a goat to set things straight. Rubbing my goat friend on the head, I headed back to the garden to fix the fence.

Reality TV aside, I know the best defense is still a fence.

If it takes good fences to make good animal neighbors I'll keep toting those rolls of wire – I wouldn't have it any other way.