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by Albin Johnson

Embedded in the concrete sidewalk in front of our home are 2 "look-alike" shotgun shell primer caps that accurately define the property lines between my neighbors and me. Most homes use low plantings and retaining walls to help landscape their front yards. The back yards are more secure by using 5+ foot wooden and wrought iron fences that straddle the property lines. Everyone has a dog or two that adds to the privacy. This modern setting differs greatly from when I was a kid in Minonk. At any time, I could walk out from my house, go across the road, past the Santa Fe depot, through Toler's yard, through the Haligeria yard, turn East through the Bearss yard and so on; or I could go out the back door and across the alley and purchase soft drinks from Hatten's DX Gas Station. Another choice was to go around our garage and across E. Vissering's back yard (they had a neat grape arbor) directly across Dishinger's yard and arrive at the old Blacksmith's Shop. He occasionally had a horse to shoe. Only farms had fences but I do recall, when delivering papers, that an occasional homeowner would ask me NOT to ride across their lawns.

Today we build fences or more aptly described as boundaries or limits to identify ownership by communities, cities and nations. Even more onerous are the fences we build around religious, ethnic, political, teenage, elderly and alternate life style groups. Our recent elections had a map of the US with each state identified by a red or blue coloration as if we were about to enter a new civil war and even predicting the winner! Thank goodness the color lines disappeared and we became a nation again.

History tells us about clans, cities, outposts and tribes erecting all manner of fortifications to "protect their interests." History also has shown that these earthen, water, stone, and wooden enclosures are now designated as "tourist attractions". We do though; still have some defensive fences hanging around to remind us about our paranoia. Some examples are: US/Mexico, the Koreas, Northern Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Israel/Palestine, Pakistan/India, and Cypress to name a few.

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Hadrian's Wall is much older. (122AD) This Roman Emperor erected a 73 miles long wall across the width of England to isolate the northern Scottish tribes, who he called barbarians, from his newly conquered England!!! He used a 20-foot high wall and deep ditches to discourage any intruders. Some of the wall is intact and is designated a national landmark.

The Great Wall of China is so dramatic that it is considered one of the "Wonders of the World." The length is an unbelievable 4165 miles long and traverses up and down mountains and across deserts. Millions of soldiers, slaves and local peoples were enlisted to build a stonewall over 30 feet tall and 16 feet wide. The work began about 700 BC and continued for 2000 years. It has been reported that the serpentine wall could be seen by the Astronauts from space.

The Berlin Wall was a symbol of the "Cold War" and built by the Russians in late 1961. It divided the Soviet controlled area of Berlin from the other allies, England, France and America. The concrete slab wall was 12 feet high and 96 miles long with a wide leveled area patrolled by armed guards who prevented anyone from entering or leaving. "Checkpoint Charlie" became the famous door for passing through. Twenty-nine years later, the wall was torn down as tensions abated between "East and West". Talk about hibernation and distrust!

America has its own "little wall" designated to house the administrators of the "save the world from the Infantada." It is in Baghdad and is called "The Green Zone or the Bubble". It previously was one of Saddam's palaces. The area houses the consulting companies, the high command and the coalition partner's headquarters. The various areas have coded names such as Camp Dragoon FOB, Trojan Horse, Camp Wolf Pack and Camp Steel Dragon. The compound has all the comforts of Home plus occasional fireworks furnished by the Iraqis mortars and car bombs.

Moving on the American "old South". I recently watched a rerun of the movie "To Kill A Mockingbird" on TV. During commercial breaks a commentator likened the time period to an invisible fence separating the Southern Blacks from the Whites. This is an excellent movie and it did remind me of the many personal fences we erect around us.

I have an old friend who lives in Virginia and promotes, sells and installs "invisible fences". The fence is actually an electrified wire buried in the ground and identifies a restrictive perimeter area for pets. It gives a mild shock that can intensify as the pet continues to intrude. Most pets learn not to pass over.

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Trivia time:
" It is difficult to pass a fence and not know it.
" Is there anything as ugly as a mud fence?
" How often do you talk to a brick wall?
" Is the grass always greener on the other side?
" Which side of the fence are you on?
" Or are you just sitting on the fence?

The Rail Splitter was one of Abe Lincoln's nicknames. In early American history, fences were built of wood sometimes called "worm", "snake" or "split rail" fences. Certain types of trees were cut into 4 ax-handle lengths (11 ft). They were then split into halves, then quarters and finally eights. 7 to 8,000 "rails" were needed to erect this criss-cross fence enclosure for a 40-acre field. Of course, some cattle rustlers, when caught, were ridden out of town straddling a "rail" from a fence.

Massai herdsmen from Kenya, Africa use thorn bushes to protect their herds of cattle. The tribesmen believe that their God gave them dominion over all cattle and find nothing wrong in confiscating any untended cattle for their own herds.

TJoseph Glidden of DeKalb, Illinois is credited with inventing the "barbed wire fence". He took standard smooth wire and attached short sharp pointed wires onto the smooth metal. It was so successful that soon 570 new patent variations were registered. He personally bought out many rivals. Today, sample lengths of these styles of barbed wire are collector items and cherished by owners.

An appropriate conclusion to this tale would be a story taken from a Canadian web site about barriers: Two brothers who were neighboring farmers lived amiably next to each other until, one day the younger brother decided to dig a trench and fill it with water along the border of the two brothers property. The older brother was incensed at this barrier and decided to have a high fence built on his side of the farm and parallel to the creek. As it happened, an itinerant carpenter stopped one day and asked for work. The older brother hired him and the man started the job. When the brother was told the job was finished, he went swiftly to the site, but found no fence. Instead there was a sturdy bridge across his brother's creek and his brother approaching with outstretched arms.