Of fences


“Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden. Sighing, he dipped his brush and passed it along the topmost plank; repeated the operation; did it again; compared the insignificant whitewashed streak with the far-reaching continent of unwhitewashed fence, and sat down on a tree-box discouraged.” Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876).

Almost everyone knows that fence painting is a seasonal business and a time of deep philosophical disquiet. It’s not something that you can start and then finish in an afternoon.

You may have seen Mrs R’s comment about a half-painted fence… I’m sure that she would not like my life to seem hollow and my existence to be but a burden.

I started painting the fence a few months ago. I painted all the panels that were not obstructed by trees and bushes. I wisely decided to leave the panels in the undergrowth until the Autumn, so that I could paint them when the leaves have gone and there are fewer invertebrates to be disturbed. It’s not just about painting a fence. It’s about a whole ecosystem and the meaning of life itself.

One Response to “Of fences”

  1. 1 adam

    I like this thinking. Everytime I face this challenge i wrestle with the dilemma:-

    Summer – Foliage hides panels = Difficult job, scratched limbs and green/brown spots on leaves which last for years*

    Autumn – No foliage, threat of constant rain = Difficult job, watered down cresote and finishing in dark

    Its at this point that Tom’s ‘deep melancholy’** makes camp in my spirit over Winter/Spring which brings me back to Summer. I’m glad that I’m not alone and can support the universal ‘ecosystem’ in this small and important way.

    The unwashed continent remains….anyway, I like untouched remote landscapes 🙂

    * Cresote and timber treatments stay on leaves far longer than the fence. They are a tiny time capsule of previous painting endeavour. If you look carefully I’m sure you will find evidence of having been a bit too liberal with the brush, pot spills and other incidents from years before (When I do tackle this work I am an Autumn Artist -the evidence can be found in huge swathes of missed and diluted coverage as the light fades and rain dilutes my attempts)

    ** This extract reminds me of just how beautiful Mark Twains use of language is. ‘Deep melancholy’ settling in and ‘existence being but a burden’ are so poetic that I almost want the experience myself! Wonderful.

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