More Than a Fence

On the road to the site, the clouds hung low, scattered across the sky with the threat of rain showers. It rained not twenty minutes before, the cool drops landing sideways onto my face as I loaded the last items needed for the day’s work. I worried that continued showers would stall the project, or the ground would become too muddy, the usually-compacted earth shifting beneath tan work boots, creating fresh shoe molds hardened for another day. Still, the rain held promise. The rainwater would provide the earth with the moisture necessary to till the ground, the soil loosening its hold on centuries of frustration to become a place of regeneration—a child’s footprints measuring the perimeter in calculated play, faces peering over wood slats to glimpse a nearby basketball game that someday, they’ll have a chance to join. The truck gathered speed along the 15-mile stretch to the home, just after a slow turn around Sharp’s Corner, necessary with the weight of 1,500 lbs. of concrete resting on the van’s right side. The previous day’s travel from Colorado to Porcupine was enough rehearsal, and I knew that even the material weight would not prevent our push towards the work we were asked to do. It was a simple request—pregnant with possibility—doubtful that it would be achieved.

Words are just words until they become action.

Just words soak deep into distrust, crafted by promises drafted on parchment and then later destroyed with lead made heavy with genocide. Just words narrate the story of blood and tears that should have never been a part of anyone’s history, pulling the cloth of hope down into a well so deep we cannot see its end. Just words frame loss and anger and dysphoria, pressing its slick palm on the backs of those who once ruled the land, imparting those who grace its spirit with skepticism and longing. Just words echo through canyons carved with culture, bouncing uselessly through intricate channels and swallowed back down with crystal goblets of nothing.

Words are just words until they become action. 

Halfway there I glimpsed the sky again—nimbus clouds sliding against the quiet landscape, alfalfa blooming on each chartreuse acre as a result of the previous months of flooding—both a blessing and a curse. The clouds held their breath, and I pleaded for soft ground and ease of work, the potential for bedrock lurking six inches below the surface, an auger no match for the stubborn grasp of a land unwilling to be torn apart again. I hoped that the twenty individuals who were caravanning behind me would be able to give back in such a way that fence lines drawn and measured were only meant to help provide for those most vulnerable, the quiet footsteps of those running away from danger swiftly gathered back home. When we arrived at the foster home, the volunteers gathered in anticipation of the work ahead, which was planned for one day—maybe two—if necessary. One last glance at the sky gave me the reassurance that we were set to begin, and gloved hands made swift work of unloading posts and panels, arranging 300 feet of fencing needed into a rough outline of my hastily-sketched plan. It was not meant to be perfect; I knew we would modify as needed. The work to get started was stunted by a few minor setbacks, rearrangements, and phone calls, but eager to start building, everyone stayed focused on the task at hand, and we started to dig the first hole. The earth moved aside quickly, the blade churning the dirt with slow, deliberate movements until two feet had been reached and the empty space below allowed for the first post to be set. The first four panels, built alongside a beautiful backdrop of Pine Ridge land and sky, were the most arduous to fix as adjustments for land and materials was needed. However, ready to turn the corner, the team started to get in sync, their flow beginning to increase with each hole dug and each panel placed. While not everyone could assist with the actual building of the fence, each person contributed in meaningful and important ways. Even I, who designed the project with the intent to build, spent most of my time on the periphery, assisting with gathering materials, assigning tasks, or offering encouragement. In the end, it was not my fence to build; it was their fence, and a team effort of like-minded individuals whose group values intrinsically aligned, contributed to making a dream a reality. In those two days, we sought to give something of ourselves collectively and individually in order to foster a common good. Our capacity to offer friendships to those we’ve never met is how we must survive in this world. Individuality is eclipsed in the building of community space not because we learn to let go of who we are more because we learn to become more with others. After a day and a half, the fence was built, a promise fulfilled, and our return inevitable.

Words are just words until they become action. 

Still, we contemplated. The bright faces and tears of joy that came with seeing the fence completed was just once facet of the story. The other manifested itself through the toil of our labor, each turn of earth offering more insight into the why alongside the how, which thus produced the question: Why is a fence more than a fence? A fence is more than a fence when it provides those who need it an entrance into a world of safety, where backs can rest along slats that will hold the slight weight of a child heavily weighed down by life. A fence is more than a fence when it will hold the back of young head as it looks up towards the sky and the stars, reclaiming childhood in a moment of peace before they must return to what lies on the outside. A fence is more than a fence when it gives more than it will take and always, there is an opening through which a choice to come and go is freely given. A fence is more than a fence when establishing one is an act of hope and kindness and those who create it love not the product but the process, coming together to build community with those who need it most.

Words are just words until they become action.
Together—we build.
More than a fence.