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At our new house down in Woodcroft, I returned to find John, my fiance, staggering up the hill from the back yard under an armload of rotting wood. For two days, he'd been carrying loads of debris out of the wooded area behind the house and up to the street, dumping it there for pickup. He was preparing to fence in the yard for Maggie, our boxer.

What he was really doing, though, as he stamped around the pines and hardwoods and over the dead leaves, was putting his footprint on our little patch of the planet. He was pacing it off, working his land, establishing mastery over it. Running his eyes along the invisible lines of our sovereign borders, marked by fluttering orange plastic strips on trees.

As he labored in the fading light, an idea was settling like a shadow on his imagination. Where to mark a path? Where to site a secret bench? Later, over days and months, a picture would unfold: a blueprint, a dream of things built in private realms.

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