Until I visited Fence Lake, I thought I knew what "sense of place" meant. I thought I had it, too, in strong doses, given my love for backroads and the fact that I answer the question "Who are you?" by explaining that I'm from New Mexico. In Fence Lake, though, I realized I don't have a sense of place, but a sense of parts.


  • COUNTY:  Cibola
  • LOCATION:  On NM 36, north of Quemado
  • NAME ORIGIN:  Named for a fenced-in lake that had once been in the area

    I learned this lesson from, of all things, a pickup truck. Actually, six pickup trucks. I idled in my car across the street from the Fence Lake store. Six pickup trucks filled the lot. That meant twelve eyes on me if I were to swallow my fear and walk in. Too polite to ask outright, they'd glance outside at my license plate. White, not yellow -- a rental car. They'd get the wrong idea. You're not from these parts, are you? And something in me couldn't stand the thought of being considered an outsider just then, even by people I didn't know.

    I'd driven out of my way to come here, anxious to see the community whose poetic name came from exactly what it says, a fenced lake. Now that I was here, I couldn't bring myself to go through with it. I couldn't infiltrate the town. I hadn't anticipated being so scared. I go to new places all the time and only rarely feel out of place (or if I do, I ignore it). Fence Lake was different. Somehow, as I'd driven farther and farther from the interstate, I'd become increasingly aware of the fact that I was an outsider. By the time I'd reached Fence Lake, I'd placed a figurative fence around the community in my mind. And I knew which side of it I was on.

    Four I could handle. Five, even. But six? No way.

    I could only skim the surface of Fence Lake, even if I did get up the guts to go inside the store. I'd never really know what it was like here, just like I never really know any place I visit. Without living here, knowing people here, growing up and dying here, I'd never get it right. I would have to be satisfied with my role as outsider, a person from other parts.

    I drove away, choice made. My loss, I'm sure.