Lee Pitts: In de fence
I’ve got the scars to prove that I’ve spent a good chunk of my life fixing and installing fence. Those fences could be sorted one of two ways: they were either defensive or offensive fences.
The word “fence” is derived from the word “defense” and an example of a defensive fence is a nine-wire electrified barbed wire fence with concertina wire on top. You’ll find such fences around maximum security prisons and in neighborhoods where a neighbor has Trichy bulls.
A good example of an offensive fence is like the one I saw that was made out of old cars buried in the ground. It was offensive to the senses because all the neighbors got to see was the bottom of wrecks showing their mufflers and rusted undercarriage, while the owner of the fence got to see nicely painted hoods, fenders and roofs. Such barriers are known as “spite fences” because they were built to offend a neighbor who mistreated you in some fashion.
The first fences in this country were of the zigzag split rail fence variety that were so crooked a hog could crawl through the fence and still be on the same side he started out on. We don’t see a plethora of these old fences any more because during the Civil War soldiers were allowed to take the top rail of someone’s split rail fence if they needed it for a fire. The next bunch of freezing soldiers who came along saw the same fence and took the top rail and… well, you get the picture.
I wish I’d taken photos of all the funny fences I’ve seen in 40 years of traveling. It would have made a great coffee table book. I’ve seen everything from grow-your-own fences made from hedges, boysenberry bushes and poplar trees to fences made from crates and pallets. The latter won’t last near as long as the living fences when the termites stop holding hands.
I remember one fence in west Texas that appeared to have been made from the contents of the house it surrounded. The fence was made from bedsprings, old doors, headboards, washers and dryers. I can only theorize that the lady of the house finally divorced her worthless husband, got all new furniture and appliances, and didn’t want to pay someone to haul her old stuff away, so she made a fence with it.
I’ve seen fences made from bicycles, license plates, hubcaps, wagon wheels, rusty road graders, logging chain welded together, and surfboards and skis entangled in an embrace as if the owner was expecting itty-bitty snowboards as a result of the union. Rural fence builders are very creative and are also environmentally aware as I’ve seen fences made from recycled wine barrels and old Coors beer bottles used like bricks with mortar in between. Of course, you couldn’t fence the King Ranch with such materials, and even if you could you’d end up with a fence crew suffering from cirrhosis of the liver and desperately in need of an AA intervention.
One would assume that environmentalists would applaud this reuse of materials but I had a greenie neighbor once who threatened to turn me in to the authorities because I’d made a fence out of the old tires we used to keep the tarps down on the hay stack. I took the fence down every year right before the rainy season.
In the Northwest, where it’s really rocky, they build their post holes instead of digging them by forming a small enclosure of woven wire and filling it with rocks. These are called rock jacks and they serve two purposes: as corner posts and as visual warning signs, saying to tourists from California, “You aren’t tough enough to live here so don’t even think about it.”
In the Midwest it seems to be fashionable to hang things from barb wire fences including boots, bras and jugs. The message they seem to be conveying to passing motorists is, “a drunken cowboy lives here with his liberated wife.”
Yes, I’ve seen all kinds of fences in my day to keep the pigs out of the posies and the cows out of the corn and I still think the best fence ever built is a snarling vicious dog and good green grass on both sides of a property line.