Sidle Up To The Fenceline


April 5, 2015

Ray and I spoke across the fenceline for fifteen years. Each Christmas, whether we needed to or not, our families got together. When Rebecca and Andy’s wedding came, Ray and Mary were there. Ray and I didn’t see eye to eye on everything and I am glad we didn’t—made life a little richer, but we when it came to the joy of working land, we had pretty darn the same mindset. Ray passed away a few years ago and his place was split up. We picked up the land—someone else the home and barn—not long afterwards. I think of Ray whenever I am working the place. However, I sorely miss the fenceline conversations.

Ray flood irrigated the land. Each spring he hooked a V-ditcher up to the 3-wheel tractor and pulled ditches. Just like it sounds, the V-ditcher is a huge V shaped metal implement. When pulled behind a tractor it pulls dirt up and out of the ground leaving a V-shaped ditch. Once pulled, the irrigator runs water down the ditch. Siphon tubes then transfer water from the ditch into the field. The practice of ditching and siphoning is laborious. Which has a lot to do with my intention of using sprinklers to irrigate the field.

To flood the land, Ray created a series of crisscrossing ditches. The large supply ditches run the property’s boundary. Changing to sprinklers means all the ditches need filling. To do so, I run a spring-tooth implement up and down the mounds of dirt along each side of the ditch. After loosening the dirt mounds, I use a 3-point blade to turn the soil back into the ditch.


Filling ditch after ditch takes a lot of tractor time. Tractor time means I had a lot of time to think about all those days I watched Ray do just the opposite. As the blade turned soil into the ditch, I knew I was watching my work hide the story of another man’s work. Years of developing a ditch system disappeared with each turn of the tractors wheel. One has to wonder if it matters to Creation that with the filling of ditches, the planting of seed, the irrigating, and the growing of grass, a day will come when neither bird nor human will know Ray’s hard worked ditches were ever here.

Fenclines come and go in this valley. Houses and barns built in the thirties lean into the soil, slowly returning to the ground each board and rusty nail. Each spring, a bit more of yesterday’s labor vanishes as a bit of todays rises. I know before long another generation will fill the ditches of my hand. I find some comfort in that. It is good to know one day the mistakes my hand and my generation will disappear. From paltry built fences to bomb cratered land, tomorrow’s people are better off to have Creation roll these mistakes back into herself. Best of all, when Creation does so, the stories of Ray’s ditches and my leveling will lie alongside those of the ancient people who once walked and hunted this land.

A day will come when rabbits will nibble grass atop these filled ditches and Ray’s story will be told in the texture and taste of grass. Today’s folk cannot know the story the landscape will tell of our generation, as much as we all would like, but folk can get an inkling of what it might sound like. All that needs doing is to listen to the landscape telling the story of yesterday’s folk. It is a story worth the listening and it’s a story all can hear. All folk need do, is to sidle up to the fenceline.

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