July 2010

Any portal in a storm

By David Feela

Often it starts with a trailer house on a couple acres and a reasonably rutted driveway running up to the house. Rather than grade, gravel, or pave the driveway, or get involved in the harder stuff, like landscaping the property, the owner decides the next big-dollar property improvement must be constructing a gateway at the driveway entrance.

And I don't mean just installing a gate with a chain or latch. No, I mean something palatial, like hauling in a halfdozen gargantuan stripped ponderosa trunks, lashing them together into primitive pillars, and planting them in concrete on each side of the access, then finding a crosspiece to bolt flush against the two uprights so it looks a little like a goalpost, with a sign swinging from the crosspiece — some homey namesake inscribed on it like “The Extra Point Ranch.”

No doubt you have seen the same scenario, but maybe in elevations of higher economics where the gateway is crafted out of stone, emblazoned with finely wrought welded-iron letters, and polished wood - solar-powered drawbridges, representing, perhaps, an approach to Eden. Whispering Pines, Seductive Sycamores, Breathless Beechnuts. Those sorts of places.

I've wondered about the attraction — why so many extravagant entrance monuments adorn our private properties here in the West. Animals simply pee to mark their territories, but human beings have lost this breeding, so they build. It may be that the greater the entrance gate, the more pungent its aesthetic scent. Anyone driving past can't miss how the portal dominates the landscape. It declares visually what our glands have lost the ability to express.

It's common to see the elaborate entryway fronting community developments. The concept of a properly gated community depends on a properly installed barrier. A solid and overbearing entrance gate must prompt the residents to believe that, like the gates of heaven, only well-behaved people will be let inside. And if the entrance is imposing enough, with perhaps a sculpted bronze grizzly baring its claws and teeth, or an eagle with its copper talons blazing, then maybe the bad people will be scared away.

Sadly, all it takes is one ambitious property owner in the neighborhood and like a gateway drug, the other easily impressed landowners are hooked, trying to out-erect their neighbors. Such a symbol of masculinity — that is, until a good straight-line wind or an inebriated driver trying to sight a straight line knocks it down. If your home is your castle, why not install a simple moat?

It's a low-profile solution to a long- s tanding problem. Stock it with piranha if you're afraid of the neighbors, or just trout if you want to turn a trip to the mailbox into a proper outing.

David Feela writes from a home with no entrance gate in Montezuma County, Colo.