The fence is fine
Scars on the post
‘Good fences make good neighbors.’[i] This classic excerpt from ‘Mending Wall’ by Robert Frost has been repeated to generations of ranchers for over a century. The lyric as worn as my grandfather’s leathery face, as expected as wind in Wyoming and as repeated as the seasons which drive change on the expansive Great Plains. I remember being mesmerized by pictures as I sat in my mother’s lap when she read to me. Today I strive to showcase the simple beauty and balance of my ‘everyday life’ in a part of the world many fly over.
Growing up on a cattle ranch in northwest North Dakota, I have spent countless hours with fences. The chore of fencing has always been somewhat therapeutic, as I have time to escape reality and detach from external communication and the stresses of my job and life. My mind can unwind like the spool of wire as I do the work my father and grandfather have done before me. I love the project of fencing, and of photographing different fences. Fence makes me think about my life. Usually the fence is fine and I mindlessly drive by. Sometimes the fix is easy; replace a clip to hold the wire to a post. Sometimes the fence is tangled or destroyed and I have to rebuild; driving new posts, splicing together broken ends and stretching new wire. While working, I listen to the song of the western meadowlark, feel the summer breeze on my face beaded in sweat, and watch the immature green fields of wheat dance like waves roll on a body of water. Therapy comes in all forms.
Fences around the world are as unique as the terrain they cover. A new environment created with purpose: to ensure safety and provide strategized grazing patterns which allow for the conservation of land resources. Fences come in all shapes and sizes. Fences can be solid. Fences can be see-through. Fences can protect from wind-chill. Fences can conduct electric current. Fences can tear flesh. Fences can be permanent. Fences can be temporary. Fences can reach metres. Fences can span kilometres. Fences can be simple, but strong. Fences can rust and decay after years of service. Livestock can jump over fences, crawl under fences or bust right through fences.
So then, why do we as ranchers build fences? Surely it isn’t to make new friends. We create a sustainable environment, securing our livestock to an area with ample grass and fresh water. The new environment keeps them safe from wandering away or into danger. As ranchers, we protect our investments with fences. We spend our lives strategising and building the genetic base of our herds, and protecting them against illness. Releasing them into an environment of safety seems only logical. Staples in thick posts and clips on barbed wire provide a newly created environment with set boundaries. For me fences will always provide an element of stability and protection where, like the cattle I tend, I am home.
[i] Frost, R 2014 ‘Mending wall’, in North of Boston, London: David Nutt, 7–8