In Mending Wall, Robert Frost writes,

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.

His neighbor has a fetish for separation and demands an annual ritual of mending the dry stack wall that divides them. Frost darkly intones,

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

Frost is, as they say, cool with that, but the nameless neighbor insists on keeping the wall in good repair despite the poet's contention that

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.

No frozen-ground-swell here in Upper Ojai (although the pipes from water tank to pump froze in early December last year and a couple of years ago a reporting station on Sisar recorded zero degrees farenheit) but oxidation, dry rot, termites, gophers and deer can play havoc with fencing. We have no need of it; but working at brush clearance I am made aware that the property is a palimpsest - of faded pasts drawn in paths, fences and rock piles.

The margins of the plot's chaparral have not been truly wildland for perhaps a hundred years and there was, over time, a fencing in and fencing out. Here time is the something that doesn't love a wall (or fence) and the physical, chemical and animal processes of the environment ensure its eventual demise.

There is for instance, the post and rail fence that, in parts, runs along the northern property line where we abut the Whitman property, Rancho del Osos, which was developed as a guest ranch in the mid 1920's. This fence may date back to that era, but it is now in terminal decay and its useful life -whatever it was keeping in or keeping out - is over. There is a gap even Griffin's 1977 C-10 Chevy can pass through - and occasionally does, for this is a back exit from the property linking up with the last gasp of the Whitman's driveway as it crosses over Bear Creek, and connecting with the nameless spit that branches off Koenigstein (although some locals call it del Osos since the ranch was its original and then only destination).

The oak grove which sits on a broad ledge between the hills to the east and the steep banks of Bear Creek is on our side of the fence and it is a place of dappled shade, monumental lichen splattered rocks and the spreading oaks themselves. This year it is also littered with oak seedlings. I cleared it of thistles and in the process was entangled, more than once, in rusting barbed wire. In places, too, there were old sheets of tin and, a little way down the Creek bank I retrieved a round straight-sided container which was circled with half-inch round perforations. I was reminded of John Meiner running his pigs in oak meadows to the east of Ojai (Mining Gravel, 2010-01-30) and, a world away, of the farmland, replete with the agricultural junk of an earlier age upon which our house stood in England and which we slowly turned into a garden (The Scythians, 2010-06-04).

Cattle still range in the Topa Topa foothills and the original 160 acre ranch from which our parcel and six others were cut almost certainly ran cattle, and the broad meadows either side of the spine which runs from north to south down our property may have provided reasonable grazing. There's barbed wire along a portion of the eastern hills and its purpose, perhaps, was to keep the cattle out of the chaparral thickets and accessible for the occasional round-up.

My only experience of cattle ranching was in Australia at a friend's ranch outside of Canberra and there the favored round-up mount was the motorcycle - which would be hurled around the bush by the rider (my friend Lachie) grazing brush and rock in frenetic attempts to corral beasts that had scant respect for a small Japanese motorcycle buzzing at their hoofs. I rode the bike over the range but never in anger. Enraged by a particularly egregious example of bovine stupidity Lachie would rev up the bike, its back wheel grappling for grip, spewing rock and sandy soil and, as man and machine melded into a pirouetting dust devil, herd the beast away from whatever danger its dull brain had lumbered it into.

Liveried four-wheelers are the round up vehicle of choice at Black Mountain, the impeccable ranch in Upper Ojai's west end but on our parcel, I like to think, as cattle roamed the meadows, man and horse (and a little barbed wire) maintained the integrity of the herd.

More domestic signs of past occupation exist at the southern end of the site where the seasonal stream is now channeled under the wet and dry (or Arizona) crossing which was installed by the developers of the parcels in the early 2000's. Previously this winter stream meandered unfettered on its way down slope to meet Bear Creek just before it passes under Koenigstein and drops down into Margot's property. Perhaps, at this muddy confluence there was once a cattle wallow. Above it and beyond the oak that rises out of the broadened stream to the west of the culvert are pathways lined in rocks now half buried by the shrubland.

To the east of the culvert, as the stream bed climbs sharply into dense chaparral someone placed a cast iron tub and shower from which, in season, a bather would enjoy a view of the stream cascading down a series of small waterfalls. This view, wet or dry, must have made quite an impression because flexible plumbing was rigged a hundred yards or so to the year round waters of Bear Creek. Of what pumped the water up to the tub there is now no evidence. Were the stone lined paths above Bear Creek a part of this appropriated landscape? Margot tells me that there were people living under the bridge on Koenigstein when she first moved to her property some seven years ago.

Our past, on this property where we have built, stretches back to the fall of 2007 when we made the fateful decision to buy it and sell the parcel just over the hill to the East which we had purchased in the Spring of 2004. So here our past is un-faded, the marks of our making still somewhat fresh and surficial. Even so, it's now nearly two years since we began grading and trenching, and this blog has largely been about our attempts to let the natural, native vegetation draw a veil over the recent depredations of back hoe and excavator.

We are encouraging the chaparral to write over those original broad strokes and in the process are creating a new layering of the landscape, a new map on the scarred surface of the old.

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