The white picket fence that rimmed the yard wasn't the main thing that attracted us to the house, but it was a charming extra. The wooden fence dipped and swooped, a pretty roller coaster emblematic of the American dream. All it needed was a pink rosebush spilling over one corner.
We bought the house 18 years ago for its hardwood floors, its pristine woodwork and built-in, its big double garage, its three-season front porch, its proximity to the park. But I was always glad for that white picket fence.
After we added a screen porch to the back, we started wishing the fence were a little taller. The porch is elevated, up four steps from the sidewalk, and when we settled ourselves in our chairs under the lights, it was as though we were on stage. When the neighbors were all out in their yards, I felt self-conscious and illuminated, and sometimes I went back in the house.
After not too long a time, the picket fence required repainting. The first time, we scraped and painted it ourselves. It took all summer. The next time around, we decided that life is too short and Minnesota summers are way too short, and we hired someone.
And that's when we found that a lot of the fence posts were rotting off underground. We replaced them, and we replaced rotten pickets, and the repair and repainting of the fence ran to more than a thousand dollars.
The third time it needed painting, we started thinking, maybe there's another way. So last fall, we ripped out the white fence along the alley and along the north side of the house, and had a nice cedar fence installed. No paint. No rot. The posts were sunken into concrete, and the cedar would weather, over time, to a soft silver. We still have the white fence on the south side, and across the front. Yes, two different fences, but I like to think of it as the best of both worlds.
We grew to love the new fence, which is sturdy and pretty and affords us with privacy. We could sit on the back porch without feeling like we were on display.
But it didn't take very long to discover that it had a serious flaw: It does not end in swooping narrow pickets; it is topped with latticework, which is capped by nice straight flat two-by-fours. Nice, straight, flat two-by-fours that run from underneath the ash tree in the backyard, past the kitchen windows, all the way to the pine trees in front of the house.
Nice, straight, flat two-by-fours that now serve as a squirrel highway.
The squirrels love the new fence. One will drop from the branches of the ash tree, perch on the fence post, and look right at Rosie, who is usually on the back porch, looking back at him. He flicks his tail, and stares. She stares back. There is a long, uneasy silence.
They both move at the same time: the squirrel runs, and Rosie throws herself at the screen, barking shrilly. Then she turns so fast she slides on the hardwood and scatters the throw rugs as she sprints past the kitchen windows, barking, to the front porch, where she throws herself at the windows and barks and barks and barks while the squirrel scrambles up into the pine tree. He perches on a branch and stares at her and flicks his tail. After a while, he scrambles back down and runs along the highway toward the back yard, and they do it all over again in reverse.
I am sure that the neighbors must love this. We certainly do.
One Saturday afternoon I watched a squirrel as it paused on the highway and then, unmistakably, lowered its torso closer to the fencetop and let loose with a long spray of pee.
This was alarming. I had never seen a squirrel pee before, let alone pee deliberately. This was almost certainly deliberate: It positioned itself in full view of a frantic Rosie, looked her straight in the eye, squatted, and peed.
I had to look it up, and sure enough, squirrels, like male dogs, urinate to mark territory. Rosie was enraged. I was annoyed. Doug suggested we line the fencetop with broken bottles or loops of concertina wire. I have a better idea: the next time the fence needs a repair--rotting posts that need replacing, cracked boards that need fixing--the squirrel gets the bill. He wants the fence, he gets the fence. All of it.
(Rosie, ever vigilant, turning and scrambling back through the house, barking at the top of her lungs, does not agree.)