by rob brian
thoughts as I fix a fence on the farm
|To Fix a fence. August 2006
The heat doesn’t penetrate the optimistic drone of the cicadas in the pecan trees. They are narcotic like a Buddhist chant, over and over, lending endurance to my will, just one more strand of bobbed wire to go. But I have to stop and sit down on the smooth red rocks by the pond and relish the shade for a little while. Nothing moves, except for a turtle that surfaces to gaze at me with yellow eyes. The heat is oppressive. The cows are hiding in the deepest coolest shadows along the creek. They wont emerge until late evening. The gardens have burned up, the hay crops are fading, and rain has fallen, but not enough. The quail and roadrunners don’t mind. The sunflowers don’t mind. They are emerging now, along the roadsides, just another weed for the last few months, now escaping ambiguity; flowering in the heat, reaching proudly across the red roads and fencerows.
I like fixing fence. It is therapy to a conflicted mind. Unlike the rest of my burdens in life, there is a beginning and end, a start and a finish. The new wire stretches across the old fence posts and I pound in the “steeples.” Sweat drips down and my T-shirt is wet and dirty, and my arms have small puncture wounds from the bobbed wire. I think over my life in a heat induced haze; what I should have done, and what I should do next. The meadowlarks whistle in agreement, and a dove down at the pond soothes my doubts. I stand back and admire my work. . I wonder how old this fence is. I wonder how many fence repairers like me have patched it. Some of the wire looks like it is as old as me, rusted and on its last stretch. I wonder if I will survive to hand this fence off to my son, or daughter and some hot August day they will be here fixing fence and wondering if it will rain. I think about the land and how it looked before there were fences. I would like to see it open and unblemished for miles and miles. Tall grass prairie as tall as the back of your horse, they say. The fences came across the prairie with the homesteaders, and brought the eastern birds, which brought the cedar trees, which brought in other birds and animals. Then came the ponds and more trees, and pretty soon it all looked different. The buffalo were gone. The Indians were gone. I would trade all the air conditioning in the world for a chance to go back and see it like that. I wonder what changes will come in the next hundred years. I do a lot of wondering, fixing fence.
The best part is finishing of course. I throw my tools in the old truck and walk back to the pond. I take off my shoes and straw hat and wade into the pond. Ahhhhhh….. The sky is blue and no longer unfriendly. I feel rich. The water tastes good. I am forgiven for all my sins. I am purged of all the heat and sweat and curses, and left renewed like a baby. I stand for a long time with cool red mud between my toes and listen to the blessed quiet. As long as I stay here I am protected from global economies, terrorists, and Wal-Mart. We are free for a while; the turtle and I.
I emerge from the pond re-armed for all my coming battles. I am a new man. The fence is fixed for a while. I have worked through all my dilemmas. I have planned a strategy for the next, oh……. thirty minutes. It is the secret of my success. Somehow the long history of the fence, the mechanics of repair, and the reaffirmations from the meadowlarks, dove, hawks, and turtles will set you back on the right path. I highly recommend it.