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Clyde, Time Was: Good fences make obedient chickens

Time was, we had fences and gates.

In these troublesome times, it’s hard to imagine living without locks and keys, alarms and dead bolts.

We build walls, fences, hedges. The word, “defense,” to ward off or protect, was shortened to become fence, without which we are defenseless —wide open to our neighbors or an army of 300,000 mongols of the Heung-noo. Che Hwang-te built a great wall in China to prevent invasions from the north in 214 B.C.

Some walls are hard to tear down, Mr. Gorbachev.

Building a wall — Latin from vallum for rampart or stake — is much easier. We spend more time getting around them or catapulting over them or secretly building Trojan horses.

The city code enforcement simply chops them down at the root, without notice. Good fences, Ben Franklin.

In 1770, our town of 60 families appointed local commissioners to enforce regulations concerning tavern charges, a town common, animals roaming the streets and the speed of horses through the streets.

Jethro Rumple says, “A strict ‘hog law’ prevailed in the sylvan shadow of the ancient borough of Salisbury. No inhabitants of said town shall, on any pretense whatsoever, keep any hog, shoat or pigs, running at large within the corporate limits of said town, under a penalty of 25 shillings while anyone had the “right to shoot kill or destroy the offending pig at sight.” Then came pig pens and chicken lots to keep them in and ne’er-do-wells out.

You could lock the door and throw away the key or “give them the gate.” The gates of heaven are always open. “And the sons of strangers shall build up thy walls… Thy gates shall be open continually, they shall not be shut day or night.” Isaiah 60:10-11.

So are the gates of hell.

Invisible or electric fences replaced barbed wire, or as they say, “bob-whar,” on Ebenezer Road, to keep interlopers out and provide for the common defense. Yet 50,000 future citizens a month come across our borders just to be arrested. The visitor center welcomes you.

For those of us safe and sound in the home of the free range who want chickens and live rus in urbe — the country in town — we have mesh chicken wire. How does Jody know it was invented in 1902 by John Hennings?

It still can’t exclude the common rat snake who can swallow up a dozen eggs or “biddies” in one overnight visit. An old biddy, broody, fat hen can peck it to death. It makes sense when we heard about henpecked or pecking order in the gossip outside the hen house, we wrote like chicken scratch and we played chicken in the street with Yankees’ kids.

“Uncle Sam expects you to keep hens and raise chickens,” an old USDA poster says. “Two hens in the backyard for each person in the house should contribute its share to a bumper crop of poultry and eggs in 1918. Table and kitchen waste provide much of the feed for the hens.” 

When they got old and quit laying, their heads were chopped off. “A chicken in every pot,” was the slogan.

Everyone has a better way to kill a chicken and the easiest way to skin or “cut ‘em up.” Chickens have a brain the size of a pea, so they don’t worry about egg production or becoming a nugget. They don’t know they are all cooped up. Side stepping the fresh by-product or being chased by the rooster made you glad to be out of the gate.

What do you call that white stuff on the top of the chicken poop? That’s chicken poop, too. Nothing you can do about it, henny penny. It happens and it ain’t falling out of the sky.

So stand at the gatepost of your fenced-in lot and look out. Don’t be a fence sitter. Watch out for the chicken hawk.

If you want to be “free range,” step out of your gateway into the doorway of others or build your fences higher and close the gate; dig a moat, even. Just please “don’t fence me in.”

Fend for yourself. Think outside of the fence.

Clyde is a Salisbury artist.

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