Thursday, 6 May 2010

Boundary Issues

My intensive fencing apprenticeship is complete as of 8.30am this morning. Ted and Terry tolerated my help which came mostly in the form of a constant stream of questions. And I was the "left a bit, no, right a bit" person in charge of determining whether the post was straight before the big post rammer knocked it in. A trainee position granted, but a girl has to start somewhere.

I did learn enough to feel semi-confident about putting the next leg of fencing up by myself, which is necessary due to cash flow. Or lack of it in our case. I will have to knock the posts in by hand with a post banger, but I can do a few at a time in the evenings and even if it takes a couple of months to get the posts in, so be it. I can't put any stock on it until the hay crop has been cut and baled, which is at least another month. Getting the posts up is the hard part. Putting the stock netting on, and the top wire takes a bit of time and care, but not so many back muscles to achieve.

The biggest fencing lesson I learned yesterday was acceptance. When I first envisioned putting up the boundary fence by the road, I saw the pristine post and rail fences of a Virginia stud farm:

image courtesy

I never pictured the mundane, workaday livestock fence that I was actually erecting:

Where's the elegance? Where's the mathematical regularity of man overcoming nature? I don't know why I was suffering from delusions of fencing grandeur as I personally picked out all the component parts and knew how they fit together. I could have easily, with very little creative thought, worked out exactly what my fence was going to look like before I put it up. How come I was so overwhelmed with disappointment? It just looked so pedestrian.

Ted and Terry knew what the fence was supposed to be, what it was going to be. They were very neat and professional assembling the fence. The posts were straight - at least as straight as one can get a rustic bendy post. But why weren't they measuring the exact distance between posts? Why weren't they putting a spirit level between posts to make sure they were the exact height relative to each other? Why didn't they pull a straight line from corner to corner to keep the posts in line?

Because they knew what they were doing and I didn't.

They were building a neat, stockproof fence to fit in with the natural curves and gradations of the landscape. They could see the overall picture of how the fence fit the field. I could only only see the stud farm in Virginia. I fretted during the whole process because I couldn't see what was actually happening in front of me, at my hands, with these tools.

Once it was up, my visions of stud farms faded and I could appreciate what I was left with - not only the right kind of fence for my needs, but also a basic understanding of how to repeat the process. This in spite of all my fretting.

Their other gift to me was two great oak "posts" to hang the gate. I saw what I thought were four tree trunks in the back of Ted's truck. But once Ted selected a trunk, carved a point on it with his chainsaw, and we lifted it into place, I realised what a post it. It's just a tree, or at least part of a tree, that once cut, takes on the properties of whatever its intended use, in this case a gate post. Sometimes it's firewood (heat), sometimes it's planks (building material). And so on.  As a post its tight grain will support the 15'gate better than softwood, and its natural tannins will prevent it rotting.

They look right there, don't you think? Once in place, Ted offered to cut them level to neaten them up. I asked him to leave them as they are, not quite even, maybe a little bit rough. Now when I look at them they will remind me of the lessons I learned as an apprentice fencer: sometimes the right thing is a stock fence, the fence has to fit the field, and a lot of the time your materials are all around you if you'd just open your eyes and see their potential.


Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

A mental image is a dangerous thing! I've been tripped up by mental images of gardens, of chicken coops, of hair cuts and, most recently, of stone walls. Nothing in my life resembles the picture in my mind.

Congratulations are in order for learning to fence, for fencing, and for re-adjusting your idea of what a fence is. I think yours looks dandy. And I love the gate -- it's straight out of All Creatures Great and Small.

Paula said...

That Virginia hunt country look takes a lot of upfront money and maintenance. Plus, then you'd look the pansy pretend farmer instead of the real thing, the latter of which I think you are going for. Right?

Somewhere, down the road when and if you have to replace posts, try to get your hands on black locust wood. It's super hard and dense, and has the reputation for lasting 60+ years when stuck in the ground. You could even grow some, if you've the room for a coppice. Black locusts grow really fast, will form a stool so you can cut from them over and over again, and have one of the higher BTU contents of all the hardwoods. Their blossoms also make excellent bee fodder. The only thing they have going against them is that they sucker pretty badly, but supposedly if you don't disturb their roots, they'll behave. I know all this because I was researching woods that can be coppiced, and black locust came out way on top. I just haven't decided if it's a good risk next to the neighbors' yards.

Poppy Cottage said...

May I offer my services as a fence post basher? Week after next? (busy chatty to oldies until then)

Jennifer Montero said...

Tamar - my mental image of chicken coops (which I'm building now) and haircuts (which I desperately need) are also catching me out. But I've grown attached to my new 'All Creatures..' fence (also a great show!) Maybe the others won't be so traumatic then?

Paula - I want to be a serious farmer, but with a strong sense of the that even possible? At least it's tidy.

I'm not sure we grow black locust wood here, I will have to look into that - thanks. It's all tanalised pine now, and oak is something special so I love my gate posts.

We coppice hazel here, it's an all-purpose wood with good straight stems that coppices easily. We make hurdles, baskets, furniture, walking sticks - you name it. I cut one the other day to hold up my washing line. It would be no good for bees though as it's wind pollinated.

Colette - I love that you're always up for the heavy work!!