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road and fences in autumnHope, Illinois, sits in the middle of the prairie east northeast of Champaign. The little settlement boasts a handful of houses and a church, and the Van Doren brothers, one of whom, Mark, made this story into a poem, but I tell it in prose as a fact.

Two farming neighbors nearly came to blows over what kind of fence should separate their properties. By law each was responsible for the right half of the fence line as they faced each other’s land. They finally stopped talking to each other after every discussion of the fence became a debate, an argument, and a trading of insults. They both agreed that a fence must be built, but they resolved their dispute in an unusual way. They each built the whole fence exactly the way each of them wanted to build it; only they built that fence a couple of feet inside their own property lines, so a no-man’s land ran the whole length of their property’s border. Neither man dared to mow or maintain the land between them, on the other side of his fence, so it grew up in weeds, shrubs, and finally trees. The strip of unkempt land harbored animals and birds that otherwise would have no shelter, but that was the only benefit of the parallel fence monument to stubbornness and a refusal to compromise.

For all of its isolation and small population Hope produced some fine, gentle, and considerate people, some of whom I have had the pleasure to know. It’s sad that it must be remembered mostly for two of its most recalcitrant members, but Hope is not alone in that, is it?

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