My father never talked about freedom. There were no flags, no symbols littered around our house. But it was behind everything he did. It was taken for granted that a person had the power to shape their own world. We never had that much, but most of what we had he made.

Looking through old snapshots of the first house he built with my mother, there were pictures of me and my two brothers playing on his stone fence. He hauled stones from the creek beds surrounding Ojai, and free-stacked them into a massive three-foot wide wall. He shaped them with sledges and chisels, and built a barrier between his home and the neighbors. He never wanted to leave that place, where the street bore his name. He was the first to build there. But we had to move, when the oil fields started shutting down.

The next house was a tract home in Bakersfield. The lot was large, a third of an acre, and he planted an orchard and vineyard out back. He stretched chain-link fencing along the sides. I learned what a “come-along” was, and ran and played at the age of seven while he sweated the fence taunt.

Dad had a mountain of tools. Many of them were scavenged and repaired from the oil fields, including a huge third-horsepower drill that sounded like a locomotive when he fired it up. My father’s knowledge came much the same way, scavenged in weekly trips to the public library. He encouraged me to do the same. I don’t remember him buying much of anything except tools. And those, he only bought when he couldn’t make them.

Our barbeque was made of welded steel tank parts. He made knives of old hacksaw blades. Almost nothing went to waste. When we moved, most of what he built stayed—the porches and patios, the vineyards and orchards—and there was always a fence. Something that separated him from his neighbor. He seldom talked to other people, he just built things in the backyard and garage.

When we moved to a five acre farm, he bought an old 1940s tractor, and built a scraper and disc for it from rusted old parts. He built a long fence from oil well drill casing. I remember stacking it every day, as he hauled it home from a scrap yard at 20$ a ton. He built it so that it could be pressurized, and run water to sprinkle the pasture. He bought cattle, so that he could raise his own beef.

I think freedom for my father was not having to count on anyone else. He had his family, and strong fences between his house and the neighbors. When he retired and moved to the hill country of Oklahoma, he stopped worrying as much about fences. But it didn’t stop him from leaving his mark.

Driving past the 160 acre spread where he built his last house, the trees he planted along side the road have grown to be massive. I remember those little seedlings, given away by the forest service, that he planted along the three-quarters of a mile of road that lead across the property up the hill to his home. Now they provide an excellent barrier to wind and sun, and say for as long as they stand that my father lived there. He left his mark on a place—like he always did.

He never spoke about freedom. But in his whole life, he always exercised his freedom to shape who he was and where he lived. That will always last longer than any flag. His last stand was a green one, and though he’s had to move nearer to the city and medical care, I always love to visit that last place. I can look at it and think that maybe someday I’ll leave my mark somewhere too.

I suppose I think about that too much. These fragile traces we leave. Sometimes they are just barriers, but sometimes, they are a way of saying that we were here and had the freedom to shape the world. That, I think, is the only kind of freedom that means anything. But shaping things requires tools. And the best of those, we create for ourselves.