Thursday, February 23, 2012

Good Fences

Baxter the Dog has had access to our back patio from day one. He rings a bell on the back door, and we let him out to go potty. Sometimes he also wades on top of the pool cover while he's out there, or barks at the neighbor dogs or climbs up onto the hillside for some mischief. He seemed to need more space than what that area provides, space with grass and views, so we installed an invisible fence for him, and he's practically trained already.

My home office is in the basement, and he hangs out there with me while I work. He also rings the basement door bell to be let out where he can roam with limits. Just yesterday I allowed him to roam in the yard by himself for the first time. I can see most of the yard from my office window, and I kept tabs on him. When I would lose sight of him, I'd run out to check, and he was never more than a few yards just around the corner, and if I said, "Baxter, come!" he'd come trotting within view.

There is a horse in the yard across the street that spies Baxter now and then, and the two four-footeds stare each other down with great interest. Here is Baxter taking a break from a game of fetch to watch the horse that was watching him:


As I've worked with the big puppy to help him understand his boundaries, to teach him by way of an invisible fence where home is and where it is not, I can't help but think of all the invisible fences we put up for ourselves. We construct our lives around where home is and where it isn't, and even though we can't see the turf markers—or the barriers—we know they're there, and we are conditioned not to hop them. We tend to stay within the safe areas in life and steer clear of the threatening ones, the shock zones.

This territory we've outlined for Baxter is my territory, too. It's home base, and as much as I enjoy exploring the world outside the fence—I get to do that because I'm not likely to get lost or be stolen or hit by a car—my roots are planted inside the fence. Husband doesn't share the same attachment to the place and jokes with people that I will be buried under the floor of the living room like old English royalty.

In recent years, I have learned to venture beyond a few of the fences I've put up for myself. I would start by peeking into what I thought was a shock zone only to discover that the off-limits area was actually open ground, not necessarily painless but harmless and full of good things. I followed with one whole foot and then another, and before I knew it, I was all in. One fence built from fear and insecurity down. Now onto the next one. This process may take a lifetime, but that's OK. The fences I'd like to rip up weren't put there over night.

Well, with this in mind, here is today's column written for Small Town Newspaper. We've all got fences—some good and some bad—the trick is to know the difference and to conquer the bad ones.

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