Tom Clyde: Fence-a-palooza
It feels like spring hit early this year. For some reason, I’m still behind on all kinds of work getting the ranch set up for the season. Conditions are already August dry, with clouds of dust behind every vehicle on one of the farm roads. It ought to be muddy. People up and down the valley are irrigating like there’s no tomorrow. There might not be any water tomorrow, but I’m having a hard time getting excited about firing up the big sprinkler system when I know it will freeze again before we are really into summer. Snow on Memorial Day is sort of a tradition around here.
I’ve turned on the easy stuff, and am out in the field moving water a few times a day to see if I can soak up some fields that were more or less dead last summer and haven’t exactly sprung to life yet this year. I’m holding out on the main ditch for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the guy who cleans the rocks out of it has an excavator broken down in the ditch, a mile up the canyon. Like everything else since the world fell apart, nobody has the part in stock. It’s back-ordered, or fell off a cargo ship, or there aren’t enough truck drivers. Local construction projects have ground to a halt because there is no plywood. A big waterworks project is moving very slowly because they can’t get valves. Welcome to the third world.
One of the big spring projects is mending the fences. They weren’t bad this year. We hardly had a winter, so there wasn’t a lot of snow weighing them down or drifts to push against them. There are always a few trees that blow over and take out a section of barbed-wire fencing with them. While it wasn’t as big a job as it often is, it wasn’t nothing, either.
Through the years I’ve tried all kinds of ways to hire a fencing crew. It needs to be done before the cows return from their winter homes on the desert, so high school kids aren’t available. Some years I’ve been able to hire a crew of resort workers or ski patrollers who have a break in their schedules before starting their summer gigs. That worked out great, though they seem to be moving on to summer jobs more quickly now.
Other years there have been college kids in the family who can round up a couple of friends and put a crew together for a week. That didn’t work this year, either. So I managed to shame the rest of the family, who own the place, into helping. Instead of a week with a small crew, we ended up with nearly 20 people for a Saturday. It was a regular Fence-A-Palooza. A few of them are veterans of prior fencing efforts. Others didn’t know which end of the pilers to hold. There was one who thought there would be sword fights involved. It’s not that kind of fencing. Each team worked out their own system. That reminded me of our former farm hand, Myrle. If I ever suggested doing something differently, he would squint at me, spit tobacco juice at a fence post and say, “We never done it that way.” End of discussion.
Anyway, they split into smaller teams, each with a more or less trained leader, and went about it. We got it done, or at least what we needed to get done right now. There’s always more. You always run out of season before you run out of fence. They figured it out quickly. It was a challenge to convince a couple of nephews that getting all of it cow-tight was more important than getting half of it looking 100% perfect, even if it looked like it was done by a bunch of winos. Tight is perfection, no matter what it looks like. The cows don’t care, and will find the weak spot.
Other signs of spring are out there. The hummingbirds are back. They were very interested in the bright red fence-post driver, and would come swooping by as we tried to pound new posts into boulders.
The motorcycle races are back, too. All summer long, future organ donors on those bullet bikes are screaming up Wolf Creek Pass at completely unreasonable speeds. They pass on blind curves, and share the joy of their engine noise with the entire valley. I can hear them inside my house for a distance of several miles. Sooner or later, one of them finds the front bumper of a Winnebago coming the other direction. It seems like they show up earlier and earlier each year. Saturday, a perfect sunny day, was the first wreck of the year. Three or four ambulances, a half dozen police cars and fire trucks, and a helicopter responded. That will be the pattern for the rest of the summer, the Saturday crash on Wolf Creek.
When I went out to move the irrigation water this morning, a sandhill crane greeted me. It was curious, and followed me along the ditch bank. There are worse ways to start the day.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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“I fully expect to see a caravan of Range Rovers leaving town, with mattresses and Peloton cycles tied to the roofs as the new arrivals decide that life in this dust bowl is intolerable,” writes Tom Clyde.