Around 8:30 Saturday morning, my brother Brad and his son Brandon loaded the pickup with two 90 pound spools of barbed wire, several wooden fence posts, fence staples along with those other necessary tools (hammers, fence stretcher & pliers and finally a tamper). My task was to help mom finish up a few things around the house before we headed out. Brandon and his dad came back into the house for water, pop and me, which is why I’d ridden back out to the ranch with the two of them. Once they had procured necessary items, we out into the pasture to work on close to two miles of barbed wire fence.
west calving pockets
From then on Brandon, Brad and I rewired the top line of a four wire fence between our south pasture and what used to be the west calving pockets set against a field. The photo shows a small part of the pockets. If you look closely, at the edge between sky and ground, you’ll also see a few of those 1000 to 1200 lb. bales of sorghum or what I grew up calling ‘cain’. Spread across those hills is a between subtle on toward strong set of autumn colors for the prairie. Those are nothing like those autumn colors we boast about up in the Rockies and which T truly love. However, what is spread across our grassland has a deeper sway in my mind than any other.
Those hefty round bales, you can barely see, are part what a high school classmate of mine has been doing on our land for the past 20 years. The field, you can’t see, is covered in dry stalks from the harvested cain. Sparsely scattered across this field are green sprouts which will die with the first frost this new fall. Ours was a mildly rough ride across the field and finally out onto the grass.
For those who don’t know, a hogback is a rather smoothly curved hill directly dropping down into the canyon below. Our job was to strip off the top of four lines of old barbed wire and replace it with new wire. Being out with those two resurfaced memories and skills from a few decades ago. Honestly, I was pleased beyond anything I’d imagined when I agreed to help.
Brad quickly loosened the old wire we were to be replacing from what he’d already accomplished. He then began pulling staples from the posts and heading east. Brandon, rightly, split off from both of us and headed on down the hogback. Once the boy was out of sight he began pulling staples and heading back up toward his dad.
My job was simple. I picked up on the loose end of the barbed wire and begin rolling it up. It sounds easy but isn’t. Keeping the wire taut requires both pulling on that first single loop so that the wire on ahead has a little strain on it but without warping the loop. After that you begin weaving the wire back and forth so that those barbs hook against each other and keep a tense hold on each strand of wire as more loops are added.
That job is slow. It is slow because of needing to keep those rusted barbs from cutting into your skin or through your glove and then into your hand. Weaving that wire back and forth takes patience as well. By taking my time, I have always been able to toss a stable roll of barbed wire into the back of the pickup. Keeping it than way makes the wire safer to handle.
My years spent on horseback and I know my brother’s on his motorcycle imprinted us with a love for this land and that way of life. It is markedly different than what I had put myself into across since leaving back in 1975. I don’t regret my changing over to clinical social work and emergency clinical work. However, I honestly miss spending time out there. My life on horseback and becoming dirty beyond most city dwellers’ belief from farming was positively different and, I think, better. Again, not because I regret not having stayed out there. I miss living that way. It isn’t simpler nor less complex because a rancher and farmer seeks to move in concert with nature even more than we need to keep in sway with the rest of humanity’s population. This life may not move as rapidly as what I did in psychiatric emergency, it is, though, as complex because nature doesn’t listen to us either.
While we were still up on the hogback we watched a doe cautiously jump the fence and work her way down into the canyon and out of sight. As we had bounced our way across the field a little earlier we had already spotted a buck and a couple other does in the direction this one was headed. So, stealing her way on out of our sight made sense.
Before the doe had made her appearance and as I said a few paragraphs before, Brandon had walked out of sight and pulled staples as he walked back toward his dad and me. This almost 30 year old kid came back up over the hogback carrying a military style water bottle strapped to his back. I’m a little jealous, but I decided to not try and take it from him. I made that decision knowing the boy could have easily kicked my butt.
Brandon on fence line
Imagine my doing the same thing back in my teenage years. Back then, I would have had on a pair of bibbed overalls with the claw hammer hanging down off the cloth loop at my hip level. I don’t know whether I’d have had on a baseball cap or a straw hat, but like Brandon, my head would have been covered. Do you see a bright strand running from the nearest fence post back toward the base of this photo? If you do, you are looking at the brand new top layer of barbed wire we’d finished stapling to those posts running on over the hogback behind Brandon.
Back behind him and off to your right you can see down that little canyon a green tree and a few dark spots scattered around it. Those dark spots of Angus cattle. Those, little spots, below my high school classmate.Perhaps you can also make out the rust color spread across the hills. Those belong to the Little Bluestem grass which is the state of Nebraska grass.
In the photo, below, of a Soapweed Yucca plant, a post and my leather gloved hand you can kind of see the first of several rolls of barbed wire I had to deal with. I’m not adept at taking a photo like this, but I tried. What kind of looks like a dying flower, off to the right and above my hand isn’t. Those are pods growing up from the Soapweed and have already dispersed their seeds. In the spring of the year those same pods are green and loved by the cattle. Many of them are stripped off their stems with delight by the cattle who had just calved.
a roll of 50 to 70 year old barbed wire
During my high school years my dad, who is now in the nursing home, and I spend hours every day combing these little hills and canyons for cows having trouble giving birth.That was during the end of winter and into the early spring of every year. My spending time out here has heavily laden me with positive and negative memories. At this point in my life I do not make and attempt to sort them out and shove them on to either side of any line. All that matters to me is that they are both present in my life.
So then, I love the raw beauty of what I saw and you now see in these photos. Until we finished somewhere between 6:30 toward 7 PM this marginally old boy sweated, hurt and love what he did. While I am certain few of you see a romantic tone to these words I want to make obvious that my love grows out of an admiration for what my father taught me.
Like I have told many of my peers, in mental health, I love the ass I call my father. Just as I voiced about the calving season and fixing fence both sets of feelings and many in between are consistent across the whole thing. Neither rules out nor creates my love for an activity or a person. I adored watching my little nephew, Brandon, who is no longer so little nor very young. Yet, I prize watching this young man do the same things I was doing 40 years ago. Those deep feelings have everything to do with being attached to both the son of my brother and the work I grew up doing.
My being of the ilk to not try and divide everything up speaks clearly of why what I have written about in the few photos I’ve shared means so much to me.
The next morning exposed me to a whole new level of what it means to grow up on a ranch. While my legs didn’t hurt in the slightest because of my peddling between 10 to 20 miles a day on my recumbent trike, my arms and shoulders hurt so bad. The stark differences from my head to my feet are just another level of how I see reality. Even in the discomfort I adored where I was and had been.