Randy Baker is a friend who loves the southern countryside and captures it beautifully in his photographs. Like many, he considers his pictures to be “just photos” and not art. He is modest about his talents for capturing beauty in a split-second shot. To me, this is art at its best.
I’ve held on to this picture all summer. It’s such a simple picture, and yet it is a perfect picture. Its subject is straight-forward–it’s a photo of a fence in the countryside. Yes, there are lots of fences. But look closely at this picture. The most noticeable feature is the upright stake, but it’s not just a pre-milled wooden stake. It’s a section of a tree still covered in bark. It also has a section that once was part of a limb and now appears to be almost a mouth sharing its thoughts with us on this cloudy summer day. The texture, the color of the bark, and then the color and texture around it in the grass and the wild flowers to the right and the cut and fallen grasses in front–all of these make it a photo you want to study for a long. I have certainly done just that.
This picture also made me want to re-read Robert Frost’s wonderful poem, The Mending Wall. I spent a whole morning reading and rereading that magificent poem and then reading some critical interpretations of it. I left refreshed and in still very much in awe of Frost’s brilliance. No wonder everyone remembers that poem or at least the famous lines it has given us. So this picture also gave me this–a little detour into rereading one of the great American poems that I hadn’t picked up in decades.
But Randy’s picture is not of a wall in need of repair or mending. It is a wall made of air, wire and wood. An entirely different type of barrier from a stone wall. The purpose is the same–it demarcates land ownership, and it keeps something out–or in. That is what got this poetic mind going.
What does a fence really do?
Here are my responses to the question of what a fence is or might be. I’ve looked at this picture so many times, and this single picture has inspired quite a few poems. These are very brief poems–sketches in verse, plus there is one poem about fences as a metaphor for our own need to be guarded at times.
the only real fence is in my head
on the fence—
am I in
or am I out?
when it comes
And here is a poem for all of us who guard our hearts so closely:
What do they —or you—
know about my fence,
and how carefully
I chose to build it?
Can you guess
it took to build it?
A lifetime of habit,
and often hidden habits,
a life spent half in fear
of being judged
in another heart.
Note: I would like to thank Randy Baker for allowing me to use this beautiful photograph that he took in the beautiful mountains of Virginia. It is a picture I would like to have framed and hanging near my writing desk. Randy, your pictures are always inspiring and bring a clarity to both the mind and heart. Thank you so much.