Fences Lost

April 27, 2010

I took down fence yesterday.  And in a way, it feels as if something has been taken.  Not always, but sometimes, when a fence comes down, there is a sense of loss.  This loss isn’t so much a tangible loss—no one came along and took the wire and fence posts—as a spiritual loss.  And when one knows the original fence builder, the loss is deeper.

Sometimes the reputation is good, sometimes not.  A fences reputation has as much to do with the fence builder as it does with job it was built for.  The Berlin Wall, for instance, or the fence being built along the U.S./Mexican border, says as much about the people who construct(ed) them as it does about the fences job keeping people in or out.  Most often, I think, when fences apply to people, their reputation suffers.

Fences on farms and ranches are most always built to keeping something in or out.  Open rangeland, like that around the farm, means animals have the right to roam as they please.  If you don’t want a horse or steer eating your front yard, you best build a fence.  Fences at the farm help keep horses or wandering cattle out of the hay fields.  But fences also are used for confinement.  More than keeping animals out, on the farm, most fences are about keeping animals in.  We use fences to breakdown pastures into rotational paddocks.  By rotating stock, we feed many more animals on a small piece of ground than we could without fences.  Thing is, fences themselves are neither good nor bad, rather, it is how they are used that matters.

I stood along the drive for a fair amount of time looking at the fence.  My mind pretty much made up to take it down.  As I stood there though, I couldn’t help but search for another way of getting tomorrows work done with the fence as it is.  The problem I pondered, though, wasn’t really a work problem as it was spiritual.  Spiritual because my kids had built this fence when they were kids.  Might sound a little strange, but once the fence was gone, there would be a loss of visual memory.  Sure there would be pictures to look at in the future, but every time I drive down the driveway, there would no longer be a visual reminder of when the kids were kids.

Standing looking down the fence line I also realized this was a fence I was “proud” of.  Most any fence will keep animals in a field.  A fence line might stray the left or to the right, the fence post tops might be uneven, and wires might not be taut; but even a poorly built fence will keep a lot of animals in, or out.  Fences do have something to say about who built it.  A lot is said about a fence builder who takes the time to eyeball a straight line, who digs and pound posts straight and level, and who pulls a taut wire.  A fence tells a story about the pride builder has in their work.

Looking down the fence line I heard such a story.  The weather, best I remember, was hot.  The t-post tops were taller than the girl’s heads and pounding them were not easy.  Running one quarter-mile wire after another meant a fair amount of walking back and forth along the fence line.  Yet, while I know they had many other important things in their life to do, they laughed and told stories as the work was done.  After days of work, the fence was done—it was a straight fence, with posts you could sight down and see tops even, one with another, and wire running true and tight.

The fence came down yesterday.  A memory-inducing landmark in the landscape of the farm is now but a memory itself.  Days of hard work, sweating bodies, and sore muscles and hands now exist in only in the mind.  Perhaps having story in the back of the mind is enough.  Perhaps it will exist as long as a fence.  Maybe longer?

© David B. Bell 2010

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