Updated: Mar 17
Keep your eye on the pine. That’s what we said to help us stay on track. You could see that old pine clear above the canopy almost anywhere on the property. If you wanted a good, clean fence line then you kept your eye on the pine.
The fence line went on a mile or so and took you from the pea field, through the holler, and up against the Twilley’s place. It was too steep, mostly, to get a four-wheeler down so it was a slow and tedious process of running down the hill with materials, setting them in place, and scaling back up for more.
It took several days once we hit the holler. Steep bluffs, loose leaves, and straw made slipping a certainty as we shuffled hither and yon driving posts, stretching wire, hammering and twisting staples, and clearing the huge trees and stones that had crashed down the year prior, ruining our labor from before.
Every time there was a break in the canopy we cast our gaze upward to eye the pine. If we were lucky we’d have a good run of fence still standing in the shade from last year to keep us true or give us a good example at the least.
I remember how damn hot it was when it came time to fix the fence. Cicadas would chirp into the air as they roosted above sounding as if the trees themselves were screaming for relief. The only thing that muffled their drone was our hammer on the post; our ax on the log.
The cows couldn’t have made it through the debris that was left behind from the tumbling stones; not a chance. But still, the summertime saw all of us boys from around our grandpa’s farm eyeing the pine and driving posts as the sweat and weakness was purged from our bodies.
It was a shared misery; a tedious rite of passage we each endured. We all worked and carried hammers and cussed the heat together. We drank salty water from mason jugs and ate soggy turkey sandwiches on white bread while our feet dangled over the bluffs. Every summer we got stronger as we drove towards the pine; our beacon of deliverance and vision of relief.
High atop the big hill on the back forty, where our land met the Twilley’s, we’d clack a staple into the pine closing off the fence for another year. The wind always blew cooler with the final staple driven flat. I remember standing on that hill when I was 18, looking back at the fence line we’d just completed. It was straight mostly; a little off course here and there but a decent little line all the same. With the last blow of the hammer that day the sky opened up and showered us with fat drops of sticky, summer rain. We stood in it, silently letting it wash away the toil, grime, and sweat as the sky baptized our dirty skin and melted our struggle and efforts into the sacred earth beneath our feet, tying us to that place forever, folding us into that land, and the pulse of eternity. I remember it, vividly, because that was the last time I laid fence on our farm: Waldrep’s Rest.
I came back years later and found the land empty. The fences were overgrown in kudzu and muscadine as they lay crumbled into the debris of the summer winds and winter rains that had persisted in my absence. I tried to walk the line again but I couldn’t make my way anymore. The fence was lost and with it my labor, my time, and my youth.
The wind rattled the leaves as the creek lapped against the stones beside it. A terrible peace now filled the air; a loneliness I'll never forget. In the summer I built fences and in turn, they built me.