Saturday’s cooler weather caused me to set out on my long run later than usual. I opted for a different route and found myself running along a large wall for several miles. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down,” came to mind as I rolled along.
The lines are from “The Mending Wall,” a Robert Frost poem about two farmers in spring walking the winter- damaged border of their properties, and perhaps about their different world views as well. The narrator joins in rebuilding the stone wall, a bit bemusedly since neither of them requires the wall to separate livestock. “He is all pine and I am apple orchard,” he explains.
It’s not easy work. The stones are craggy and odd shaped. “We wear our fingers rough with handling them.” After a while, our poet shares his opinion that they do not need the wall. “My apple trees will never get across; And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.”
His argument fails to convince the other farmer. “He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.'” They continue on, rebuilding the fence. The old adage proves insufficient to satisfy our pensive poet, however, who pipes up in a bit: “Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it where there are cows?” He goes on to point out the obvious: “But here there are no cows.”
No words come from the pine tree farmer, whom we must assume continues on quietly rebuilding the stone wall. Eventually, unable to keep his thoughts to himself, the questioning neighbor opines: ” Before I built a wall I’d ask to know; What I was walling in or walling out.”
But his partner in wall building fails to rise to the invitation to debate. He maintains his steady pace. “He will not go behind his father’s saying, And he likes having thought of it so well; He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.'”
As I ticked off the miles, I found myself aligning with the good fences fellow. After a week of work, being alone with my thoughts was just fine. I didn’t even listen to the radio I had along. Trying to remember the poem and appreciating the passing scenes kept me pleasantly occupied.
Yet there are definitely times when I am in the camp of the apple orchard- wall skeptic. In fact, the next day found me sharing some miles with running chums as well as making plans with an out of state buddy to meet up for a race so we might run together. Some of my best friendships and truest conversations have happened over the course of runs.
Perhaps being next to one another and facing forward causes the conversation to flow more easily. Maybe the physical exertion involved creates something of a common bond. While usually the topics are casual, or even mundane, I believe there’s a raw honesty you can trust.
We probably all of us have walls of some form and size around us on any number of days when we run. I’m glad there does seem to be something in nature, and in most of us, however, that “doesn’t love a wall.”