Don’t fence me in
Aspen, CO Colorado
That line was written by the great American playwright August Wilson and was a critical component of his Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play “Fences.” While the play dealt with the black experience in America circa 1957, there is a universal theme that revolves around how some people need the comfort of fences, either to protect them from others or to insulate themselves from outsiders. The fence in the play is, of course, metaphorical.
I thought about that line from the play the other day as I drove Watson Divide, the dirt road that runs from Highway 82 into Old Snowmass. There, a fence is under construction on both sides of the Divide Road. It is a magnificent fence. Hundreds of gleaming yellow wooden posts perhaps 4-feet-or-so high (doesn’t the county have a 42-inch height limit for fences?) and maybe 6 feet apart are set in the dirt for, oh, I’d say, easily a half-mile.
Driving Watson Divide is now akin to driving a road that is bordered on both sides by barriers. It is essentially a tunnel without a top. One is reminded of the artist Christo and his “Running Fence,” a temporary artwork that was constructed in Napa and Sonoma counties in September 1976. “Running Fence” consisted of a fabric hung from wires that ran for 24.5 miles over the countryside and into Bodega Bay. The installation was in place for 13 days and elicited both oohs and ahs and much criticism.
Unfortunately, the fence on Watson Divide will likely be there for more than 13 days and is unlikely to draw any oohs and ahs. More likely it will just draw “huhs,” as in “why would anybody build a fence in such a beautiful and wild place?”
The answer will be “because they can.” Increasingly in this valley, fences have become part and parcel of people’s parcels. Gated communities with guardhouses are found in the heretofore pristine benches above Woody Creek. In my neighborhood a new property owner built a 25-foot-long fence to block a trail that has been used by elk and deer and neighbors for who knows how long. One needs simply to walk around it to get to where they are going but the sentiment is clear: “Don’t even think about treading on my land.”
Not to get all Chief Seattle here, but why are people so intent on marking their property? Like dogs who set barriers by leaving their scents behind, property owners these days need to delineate for the world exactly what it is they own, exactly where their property lines run.
In the case of the fence on the Divide, the owners may feel more safe and secure living behind a fence. But is it really necessary? What are they trying to keep out? What do they need to keep in?
And don’t they understand the impact they are making and the message they are sending to the hundreds of folks who drive that road daily? Perhaps they do, and perhaps that is the point.
To borrow a quote from Ronald Reagan, “Tear down these walls,” and (again a borrowed line) “From every mountainside let freedom ring!”
Free your mind and free Watson Divide.
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Aspen City Council’s recent actions are proof that you get what you pay for, argues Elizabeth Milias in her Red Ant column this week.