Saturday 19 June 2021

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…” This passage is the opening to Robert Frost’s poem,

This passage is the opening to Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Wall. The most famous, oft-quoted part of that poem is, “…good fences make good neighbors.” This particular poem and the tension between the protagonist — who doesn’t want the wall — and his neighbor who insists upon rebuilding it each year, always spoke to me.

Lest you get ahead of yourself, Gentle Reader, my story has nothing to do with the Mexican border but instead involves the small fence I recently had to erect around our property here on the mountain. I, like the protagonist in Frost’s poem, did not want or need a fence. I liked the idea of sharing the greater area with our neighbors and letting all involved politely roam free — as we have for the past couple of years while we rented the house.

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My idyllic dream quickly died when I went to get insurance on our new purchased home. My dream was not by any means the first killed by an insurance agent, but it was indeed smothered through a cautionary tale spoken in rapid-fire, not-very-Robert-Frost-like-Spanish.

In summary, and in English: should someone fall or otherwise hurt themselves on my unmarked, unfenced property then I was likely going to be hearing from a lawyer. The insurance I was paying for would, unfortunately, not cover me.

This didn’t ring true to me. Locals in my newly-adopted country do not see dollar signs when they fall down. Generally speaking, they just get back up and move along, dragging along whatever limb ails them. Ticos, to my way of thinking, were not a looming liability.

What I had not thought about was the hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world that come to this area each year. Back in Texas there’s always that nagging, likely valid suspicion that wandering onto someone else’s property might by the last thing you do. Take that same Texan, however, and send him to Costa Rica and it’s amazing how quickly their attitude becomes equivalent to, “…my plane ticket also gives me an all-access pass to anywhere I want to go in the country – including your yard.”

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The response you get when you ask a tourist why they’re sitting on your porch is typically something like, “Oh, I was just looking.” The most bold will then ask you for the WIFI password.

As I succumbed to the notion that I’d soon be building a fence I realized another important point that the insurance agent hadn’t brought up: nudity. While I now saw the risks involving tourists stepping into a hole or having a tree limb fall on them I also now recalled the dangers of having any Ticos catch a glimpse of my naked body.

With apologies for that visual, which you can’t unsee, I’ve always taken the approach that anyone who looks in my house and sees me naked has my apologies but only themselves to blame. Costa Rican law, however, prohibits public nudity (including any flesh that may be seen by peering through your windows). One of my friends, a recovering hippie that’s lived here for 40+ years, loves to tell the story of how a large number of her friends were permanently deported when the neighbors complained to the authorities about the lack of clothing utilized in the impromptu hippie commune.

And so, the protagonist in Mr. Frost’s poem and I both have walls and fences we didn’t really want. Whether or not we actually need them is to be determined but, either way, I encourage all involved to avoid looking in my windows.

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Marshall Cobb
Marshall and his family moved to Costa Rica in 2015 as part of a one-year plan to explore a new culture and, hopefully, publish a novel. The one-year plan morphed into permanent residency, and the work continues on two novels. He takes breaks from trying to find an agent by posting blogs on his website and can be reached at:

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