Fences Make Interesting Neighbors

Consider fences. Most of the time they’re damn dull. They do their job without making a fuss or a fashion statement. At the Portland Orbit, we’re interested in any stabs at creativity we can feast our eyes on. You might think there isn’t much people can do with fences but I here’s proof to the contrary.  Fences can take on elements of yard decor that make them unique. There might be windows added or fences made from scrap doors and window frames. A structure can take on the look of a mixed media piece of art when elements of whatever might be lying around are mixed in. These days people have realized that fences can straddle the line between practically and art.

Backside Barrier

This homemade barrier had us stopping dead in our tire tracks so I could jump out of the car and take a picture. It encompasses everything I love. Homegrown ingenuity for fencing from an unlikely source which includes mannequin materials that launched some old familiar and feverish feelings. This yard in SW near Multnomah Village is also directly across the street from a Christian school so one could only imagine the backstory. This is form that follows function as fencing goes. It inspired me to think of other examples of interesting, yet less exotic styles of fencing, that I needed to bring to the public’s attention.

Nautical, Not Knot to Call

In the University Park neighborhood off of Willamette Boulevard, I spotted a fence that took  elements of a nautical theme combined with a kitchen sink approach to fence design. The water decor works well given that the fence is in front of a house that backs up to the banks of the Willamette river.  It weaves netting and ropes through trees and logs.  A closer look revealed decorative items that brought color and a touch of whimsy to this kind of yard marker. Who knew how artsy an old rake could look when grouped with old logs, nautical floats and a random cat mask?

The Windows to the Soul Approach

First I would consider why anyone would want a window in their fence. Fences are all about privacy. Right? But at the Portland Orbit any time anyone asks why? The response is a guaranteed why not. These windows offer a dramatic decorative element that may also serve a function if anyone ever needs to see who might be creeping along the fence. This is something that any fence builder should contemplate. A wall of wood doesn’t always do much good. I mean all that grain and stain really could stand to be broken up by a few windows.

Frame by Frame

In the St. Johns neighborhood this house had an approach to fencing that seized my imagination. Windows and doors along with elements like skis and a sled have been utilized to create this fence. A neighbor, out walking his dog, described it as looking “hooterville” when I was getting some photos. He did counter the thought by adding “to each his own,” as he and his dog continued off on their walk. I have to say I might feel different if I had to look at this everyday. My only problem would be that I wouldn’t be able to stop looking at it. I’d always be finding new objects that I may have missed. These kind of things keep the design fresh and interesting especially when it stands out in of a crowd of generic neighborhood fences.

Detail: Fence wash board

 

Welcome sledders and golfers!

 

 

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A Feast For February Eyes: Birdbath Mania in Laurelhurst

photo by Will Simmons

Even before the first day of this February a funk settled over me so deep it would have made James Brown envious. January ended with two days of winter sunshine and I couldn’t take it. Cold gray skies have slithered back that may bring a wintry mix allowing me to get back to daydreams of real sunshine emanating from the cloudless blue skied August afternoons like the one that had a friend and me stumbling upon an overly decorated, yet endlessly fascinating explosion of birdbaths in the Laurelhurst neighborhood.

In the previous times I’d spotted this yard, my head always snapped back as I tried to catch a glimpse while speeding by on my way to get some place. It was a startling to see the yard in slow motion. The opportunity arose when Will Simmons from the Pittsburgh Orbit was in town for the World International Orbit conference held in August of 2017. On one of our many bike tours we headed through the Laurelhurst neighborhood on what had to have been Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Here was a place I’d been meaning to experience for a long time.

I know next to nothing about the origins of this superb example of birdbath mania. It’s possible that things have changed drastically since I last saw it a year and a half ago. It’s even more likely that it remains the same except for slow decay from time and weather. Neighbors could either see it as a source of pride or annoyance. It would take some organization to rid the neighborhood of what the unenlightened might consider an eyesore.

The yard has a feel of a folk art environment. Of course the art in question seems to be of the store-bought variety but there’s art in the arrangement and yard art quantity. This cluttered approach to exterior decorating overwhelms the eye with visions of disintegrating sculptures and cement. Birdbaths spill over the ceramic retaining wall, out of the yard’s boundaries and past the sidewalk. Grumpy, old-fashioned children haunt me while lawn deer and smiling frogs attempt to lighten the mood.

I can only wonder what birds think of the yard. The baths didn’t exactly teem with life. No birds were spotted. The birdbaths didn’t appear to contain water. Other signs of decay included dried plants and worn out statues. One figurine, absorbed in a book, remained oblivious to her feet having crumbled and fallen off. The volume of ceramics, figurines, statues, knickknacks, birdbaths and cement that combine to form this bastion of over-decoration overshadows what probably was never intended as a bird spa anyway.

 

Post Script: It’s cemented in my brain that February can be a tough month. I may have remained unwary of this phenomenon had it not been for the comments of Rich Reece that appeared in the Portland Monthly a few years back. Life can be a slog at anytime but when you throw in recurring grime, blankets of rain and a constant shade of gray people can get depressed. Advise like not impulsively quitting your job or your significant other is good all year round but it’s also fitting for a month that wears on people. Be glad it’s a short month. Stay healthy, don’t let your misery get exponential and fight that temptation to yell at man-bun sporting jaywalkers. A quick culture fix spent staring at an odd assortment of birdbaths may be the cure for winter doldrums—weather permitting of course. 

photo by Will Simmons

photo by Will Simmons