I can make my dad angry at any time, just by bringing up “the fence”. We moved to this mountain when I was around two years old. And I must have driven my mother crazy by wandering off into the woods that surrounded us on all four sides, except for my Grandmother’s house a quarter mile away. My dad says that they couldn’t really afford the fence, but decided to build one around the yard anyway. In their usual fashion, Mom
and Dad worked together to dig holes, put up posts, stretch woven wire, and make a nice sized yard. Any child in her right mind would be happy, right? As he tells it, because I was too young to remember, as he was hanging the gate to finish up the fence, I came toddling along with whatever dog happened to be my best friend at the time, and without hesitation, climbed up and over the fence, running through the field as only a carefree child can scoot. The memory of that time and expense can make my dad’s blood pressure rise and he’ll use a half dozen curse words to describe it.
He never says what punishment befell me, but I’m sure a butt whoopin’ was the least of it. I know that I have no memory at any time afterwards of ever being told to stay in the yard. I do remember overhearing him tell one of the relatives that he tried one day to follow me through the woods. He said, “I couldn’t keep up with her and the dog was with her, so I figured she’d be okay.” As a parent today, I know what kind of imagined horrors occur to your children when they aren’t in your line of sight, so I feel sorry now for what I put them through then.
But at the time, the woods, the mostly dry creeks (aka as mountain ditches), and a good bit of the neighbors’ woods and farm became my ‘yard’. In a summer or on weekends, I would range over about 500 acres of property. My mother says that she decided never to worry unless the dog came home before me. In my mind, I still have a visual map of the side of the mountain. My fenced-in yard was just home base. But drop me anywhere on the mountain, and I am sure to find some landmark or shape of land that I know as well as you know your own front porch.
Now, I have my own house on the mountain with its own fenced-in yard, but my daughters do not venture out on their own. We have too many bear and coyote who have moved into the area, and too many stories on the news of two-legged predators. But when I can, I take an afternoon and I let them lead the way. And for my girls, I’ve realized that their mental map and their boundaries are even further spread apart than my own childhood. Sometimes we explore the mountain on foot, and on other days, I hand them my phone, they pull up the geocache app, and away we go to explore in whatever town they decide to visit. I follow their directions, their lead.
I hope the girls never reach a fence.