Borderlines: Sketches from the Empty Quarter: CW's Fence


By GK Harkness

April 12, 2023

In his later days, my Father built this fence around his small meadow, a final strategic move in the annual battle to discourage stray cattle from sharing his retirement retreat.

On his face he wore a prominent scar, a lasting reminder of a bad day with barbed wire on the prairie, and in memory of that he wanted no part of the sharpness of steel on his little piece of paradise. His fence was entirely wooden, rails of aspen and pine gathered from the nearby forest, supported with “store bought” creosoted posts ferried home from Falkenberg Hardware in Westcliffe in the back of a ‘61 Chevy pickup. Carefully crafted by gifted hands that had held in successive turns the leather reins of ranch horses, an independent trucker’s steering wheel, a Marine Corps M1 Garand rifle and finally his well-worn farmer’s tools. Years long in the making, the shaping of this boundary was his daily task in summer months when warm winds blew fair and luminous mountain mornings called him outside.

Each post hole dug laboriously by hand, in a hard soil more boulder than earth. Rocks pried out of the way with an ancient crowbar he found in the same meadow. Old iron it was, fire forged from an axle shaft by other hands far older than his and perfectly suited to his needs. I think he thought God had left it there for him to find ... if for no other reason than to prevent any pretensions of idleness in his retirement.

He finished it in his 85th year, just before a stroke struck him down, never to raise axe or hammer again.

The line posts still stand, proud and tall, rooted deeply by his calloused hands and nourished with his stubbornness. The lodgepoles that linked them, timeworn, swaybacked and bent nearly to the grass by the years, are now gone. New neighbors, short on sentiment and caring nothing for the cost of his effort, whined and complained that his accomplishment was a blemish, that it drifted snow on the road and slowed their hurried comings and goings. One winter day, tired of their harping, my youngest son and I pulled the weathered rails and stacked them along the edge of the meadow against our common border, gathered haphazardly into a giant crooked pile that stabs the sky like a porcupine with mange.

If you are going to be held responsible for a perceived eyesore, best to make it a memorable one.

Stubbornness would appear to be an inherited trait.

(CW was born 115 years ago today. I think he would have been surprised to find that his past is alive and well with us here in the present.)

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