Sunday, September 11, 2016

On Fencerows

Fencerow: The uncultivated strip of land on either side of a fence.

Viewed as a bothersome nuisance and impediment to efficiency by agribusiness, fencerows are nevertheless a good thing. They provide refuge, habitat, and a corridor for a whole range of insects, birds, animals and plants. Old fencerows-- grown up with shrubbery and trees-- are enduring veins of wildness in an otherwise sickly torso of overused, over-developed real estate. They are remnants of an earlier, more balanced era, before agriculture became industrialized and before the great majority of fencerows throughout the Midwest and Great Plains--- on the advice of university-based "experts"--- were systematically ripped out to make way for ever larger and more ruinously expensive machinery.

We have chosen the fencerow as an emblem for this journal of regionalist literature and art for several reasons.  For one, the fencerow is a mark of human occupation, visible even from the air, a boundary between fields and properties, and an indication that the land is valued and well-tended.  

Second, the threats to fencerows are analogous to the threats to regionalism.  As our world becomes ever more homogenized due to the corporatization of every aspect of our lives, regional distinctions are submerged in a sea of commercial noise and superficiality.  The same economic and cultural pressures that erode regional character have contributed over the years to the systematic and deliberate destruction of fencerows.  As the rural landscape becomes more corporatized through the ever-increasing dominance of agribusiness, old fencerows are bull-dozed, and the land loses something of its character, its history, and often its inhabitants, not to mention its topsoil.

Established, overgrown fencerows, like the older hedgerows that preceded them, are an indication of a region's health and balance.  They are human-scaled, and built by human hands, usually with no more technology than a shovel.  They don't appear overnight.  They require years and decades to mature.  If they have been all but obliterated by agribusiness through much of the midwest and Great Plains, they persist in other areas where geography dicatates smaller fields, in regions where truck farming and farmer's markets predominate, or where the Amish are.

In recent discussions of ecological systems, a growing recognition of the value of highway and railway rights-of-way, amounting to millions of acres across the country, has led some states to extend protection to them, and to limit or prohibit spraying and even mowing, at certain seasons.  Such interconnected corridors of natural space are now seen to be crucial to the survival of species of plants, birds and animals.  Fencerows offer superior shelter to wildlife and increase the interconnectedness of highway and railway corridors.

In other words, even as they are relegated to vestiges of a pre-modern past, they point the way to a possible future, just as persistent ideas and attributes of regionality offer a possible counterbalance to the excesses of homogeniety and globalization. 

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