July 19, 2021

Borders, Boundaries


I walk across a small field in full sunlight. The light touches leaves and grasses, shifting with the breezes; it sparkles on the tall, thin grasses and glows on leafy surfaces. There is a trodden path through the growth, but the 4 foot tall flowering grasses still brush against my skin, with a slightly scratchy feeling. (I'd like to use the word raspy, incorrectly, as I think of a wood rasp, with its small holes, tickling away the edges of a wood panel.) Ahead of me I see the dark edge of the woods.

When I cross that border from bright fields to shadowed woods it is as though I am in a different body, one that is cooler, cradled, limited in sight. From a horizontal world, open and expansive, I enter one that is vertical, where I look up to treetops and down to the ground. I often think of the words of Robert Frost, which come to me unbidden: 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

This line is from his poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening". In it he speaks of that most unforgiving of borders, that between life and death, in saying

But I have promises to keep, 

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

In the woods are many stone walls, walls that used to be the borders between property owners, separating long-gone open fields. A few days ago I noticed the red boundary marker for the southwest corner of my property; I hadn't paid attention to these boundaries for years. 

Many of the walls have fallen apart; stones are no longer piled one atop the other in an orderly fashion; trees grow through them. The hard labor of transporting and placing large rocks and huge boulders is undone.  Another Frost poem, "Mending Wall", has a phrase that echoes through my head:
Something there is that doesn't love a wall
The poem is a wonderfully wrought, simply put questioning on the necessity of walls, because even though his neighbor insists
Good fences make good neighbors
Frost wonders why a wall is needed between an orchard and a pine woods. And we can now take that questioning out into the larger world. 

The curved line of metal is all that remains of a gate that stood in the southeastern corner of my field, a forlorn reminder of the futility of fixed boundaries.


  1. Thank you Altoon for reminding me of these three Frost poems as I start my day, also living by Vermont fields, a rock wall, and in my case, a piney wood.

  2. Nice. That blue arc makes me think somebody's doing some maple-sugaring. What a great gift - the way the life in a tree can combine sunlight and carbon dioxide to make stuff.
    Thank you.

  3. I am now in Vermont having flown in from altanta. What a contrast of concrete encasing heat from the wavering asphalt to the cool wet green.. My husband's favorite poet along with Richard Wilbur was Robert Frost, his words made vivid by the visuals of Vermont Thank you. Ginger Birdsey