A farm, a fence post, and a few spent walnuts

This image was recorded in May and is one of the last taken at the farm. Perhaps showing it to you, along with a bit of prose, will be good for me? I’m in an unusual place, you see. We left the farm in August and, save the fact that it is currently without a family to take our place, it hasn’t been much on my mind. Perhaps I’ve come to terms with leaving. Perhaps I haven’t begun to do so? We worked the farm all the years the girls were growing up. I was about to say we left behind memories, but that is not the case for we all take with us many fond memories of life there. So how does one say goodbye to such a life? To such a place? I don’t know. Perhaps telling stories will help?Lunch

The image shows the top of a wooden fence post. Construction of pasture fences began at the farm in 1995, occurred in stages as we increased the number of animals we had, and ended no less than a decade later. One of the things I have always liked about learning to do things, like build livestock fence, is the joy of coming to know the tricks that allow you to do things more efficiently and effectively.Spring I want to tell you about one trick I learned about building a high-tensile fence. But before I do, let me hint at an even earlier lesson I learned as a fence builder. Consider how you might install a fixed loop onto one or the other end of this heavy compression spring. A spring such as this is used, at the beginning and end of long stretches of wire, to maintain tension and to allow the fence to absorb impact, such as may be experienced when an animal or farm implement pushes up against it. A solution to this problem eluded me for a time (weeks, if we’re being honest) and the dilemma presented itself like one of those Tavern Puzzles one often sees. I eventually stumbled upon the solution to my spring-problem in one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-that-earlier moments. I won’t give away the answer but there’s a hint here if you care to know it. So, the trick to building a high-tensile fence is to use massive posts for ends and for corners, and to bury them as deeply as you can. This is because the individual wires which make up the fence are under more than 250 pounds of tension. Most livestock enclosures are of the 8-wire-type and pressure at the corners is enormous. To be sure that the wires remain tight, you have to ensure that end and corner posts don’t move. Using massive posts to anchor your fence goes a long way to keeping those elements in place and under tension for very long periods of time. A friend down the road raises bucking bulls, has appropriate fences to do so, and has amassed a supply of gently-used telephone poles. These could be cut into pieces and then used as line and corner posts. He was always willing to part with as many as I needed but never passed up an opportunity to joke a bit by asking what sort of sheep was it that I was raising such that fencing them required such strong and sturdy anchors. He knew that Joanna and I raised Shetland sheep and that stout fences were not so much intended to keep our animals in as they were to keep other animals, including predatory ones, out. Nonetheless, he would ask every time we met. Anyway, I was doing chores one morning in May when I noticed the spoils of a meal taken by one of our local squirrels. The remains lay atop a corner fence post. I like the image for its colorful mosaic of lichen and for the look of the shell fragments, reminding me of scattered bits of a puzzle waiting to be pieced together.

23 thoughts on “A farm, a fence post, and a few spent walnuts

  1. The approximately thirty years of memories from that farm will not be going away. What I suspect will happen is that over time you will find that the narrative you will tell of those memories will change. Some details will exit the scent, new–previously forgotten–ones will enter and, perhaps, over time even the details themselves will alter slightly. And so it goes. I think of that fence itself as the current boundary of your thoughts. Like any fence it, too, will change. Give it a little slack 🙂

  2. We all put a lot of ourselves into a home of such long standing and, I would think, even more so when that home is a farm with so many lives intertwined with your own. I am sure you remember many special animals with whom you shared the years. Of course, the fact that you raised your children adds even more to the special feelings you have. Certainly you must have countless stories.

    I looked at the wire tying figure and am not sure I could make out the drawing of the attachment to the spring end. I am guessing it is similar to what I do when tying off an end before blind sewing up a cushion and not wanting to tie a huge knot. I fold the thread in half, then loop the closed end of the thread around the fabric before passing the open ends through it to create not a knot but a looped tie with the material. I’ve used way more words to describe it than probably is needed. It sort of looks like that which is what I thought of when you mentioned it. We use a spring like that at the end of our dog run to help cushion the dog when being stopped at the end of a strong lunge.

    • Yes … it is exactly the same sort of spring. I’ve never tried to explain this using words (you notice how I avoided doing so in the post!) … but here goes. The spring is made in three pieces. One coil and two equivalent, bent, bits of spring wire. The bent pieces are tucked inside the coiled itself. One of these has been inserted from the right and one from the left. The one inserted from the right eventually ‘catches’ with the two little hooks on the right. The one inserted from the left, eventually ‘catches’ with the two little hooks on the left. If you push on either of the exposed loop ends, the two little hooks associated with that end will slide out. So, if you push on the right exposed loop … the two little hooks on the left move to the left and the piece of spring wire emerges to the left. If you push on the left exposed loop .. the two little hooks on the right move to the right and that piece of spring wire emerges to the right. Once one or the other spring wire has been removed, you can add the closed loop, and then reinsert the bit of spring wire. Magic. I’m not sure I’ve done this justice!

  3. Great, multi-faceted post. Of course I was also intrigued by the technical puzzle and found the linked PDF most intriguing. I am also fascinated with these interesting questions one often stumbles upon in ‘everyday engineering’ – and I can relate to your feeling of satisfaction when you finally solved it.

    But whereas such technical issues are difficult enough, the challenges might pale in contrast with the big challenges of life – that cannot be broken down to neat problems and solved analytically or by one eureka moment. That’s what came to my mind when comparing the different parts of the post. These things are much on my mind these days, albeit not related to a personal challenge but rather to the crisis Europe and my country have been facing since the past months and which is not likely to go away anytime soon. I feel I enjoy to escape to technical problem-solving sometimes to immerse myself in a world where I can at least solve something.

    I can perhaps hardly imagine what it means to part with such long-term memories and history. I am sure you’ll find inspirational writing that says to consider it an opportunity etc. but I believe it is not that simple, and it depends on all details of history. I am often thinking about (geographical) mobility, what triggers it, and differences between different countries and societies. We Austrians are legend for being extremely sedentary – so I had once moved 250km and this is already a lot by my country’s standards. But I see that times are changing and especially jobs in international corporations demand much higher mobility. So there is sort of a network effect: More people, organizations and gov. agencies expect mobility and flexibility, and the bar is raised for everyone.

    • Thanks for thinking about this Elke and for taking the time to pass along your thoughts. As a fellow scientist, I could especially relate to the satisfaction of solving empirical problems. Perhaps that is why we went into the field as a vocation … because we could be sure to gain a sense of satisfaction (personal or otherwise) by solving tractable (testable) problems. These are, of course, in contrast to personal and social difficulties which, as you have suggested, are less easily solved. I also liked your question regarding social and cultural influences on mobility. It would seem that the answer to that question, today, is very different than it might have been, say, 50 or 100 years ago. People do, in fact, move about the planet with ease … physically and especially, digitally.

      • Ah, digital mobility 🙂 As much as I dreaded physical mobility I like to praise that one to the skies. I think I’d call the technical options to work ‘remotely’ the single biggest innovation that changed my life. Many projects and jobs I did in the past 10-15 years would not have been possible without it.
        I also hope this technology and related cultural changes will finally put an end to all that expensive and carbon dioxide emitting business travel – flying 1000 km to another site and back in a day to have that one 2 hours meeting. I have noticed that lots of companies became much more travel-cost aware and switched to remote-only work during the last economic crisis, and then sticked with it.

  4. I had to laugh at the two points in your post where life on the land recalled life on the water. First, there are those walnut shells. Back in the days before microbeads and such, ground walnut shells were used to create a non-skid surface on boat decks. As for the need to keep fence from stretching when livestock leans against it? That’s no different than the need to keep lifelines on a boat from stretching or pulling loose when a sailor leans against them.

    Lifelines have a little device at either end which allows for tightening or loosening by rotating a threaded “cuff” into which the line fits. I found this in the linked article, and wonder if the same principle isn’t at work: “Twisting brace wire removes slack and puts pressure on the H-brace. The brace then pushes against the anchor post, which prevents the post from being pulled over when the fence is stretched.”

    Obviously, I’ve not spent my life pulling fence, but I’ve had the experience. It makes for some memories, too.

    • Thanks shoreacres, for you are clearly reading the prose carefully. I am pleased. I assumed that the majority of those who migrate to this page simply looked at the ‘pretty picture,’ and clicked onward, without giving the words much thought. I have believed this so strongly that I have, on more than one occasion thought about ditching the prose altogether (or filling the spaces with lorem ipsum – and see what happens). Thank you for taking the time to read, assimilate, and respond. D

  5. Life on the farm certainly taught you a lot. A jack-of-all-trades. When you look at how much you knew at the start and now at the end, you should be quite proud. Bet your shetlands were the safest sheep around! This particular post looks like it’s seen quite a bit of age and weather. By the looks of it, some squirrels use it as their dinner table. Sloppy little critters!

    • Joanna has already made herself (and her generous supplies of birdseed) known to the local populations of both Red and Gray Squirrels. Although she allows the Reds to sit in the bird feeders, she scolds the Grays when they do the same. Talk about a double-standard. We hope the fences at the Farm will be just one of its many fine selling points … to the right, agriculturally-minded, buyer.

    • You are correct Charlie. There must be any number of movies in which somebody says something like, ‘If you don’t do this now … you never will. Live for the day. Take a chance. It’ll all work out.’ Striking out in a new direction is difficult, while the movies make it seem easy. We’re doing our best. Day by day. Thanks for checking in.

  6. A beautiful post … in its two meanings (!) … and I think that telling stories is the perfect way of starting to make sense of what has been a huge life shift David. I hope your new home is comfortable and filled with as much love as the last one💕

    • Thanks Seonaid. As always, your supportive comment provides motivation to keep blogging. It has always been my intention to write about matters with a wider significance, and I would worry if these pages became too introspective. In this particular case, however, I couldn’t resist. Sometime I will write more about our new home. There were three things that were important to us when we began looking … the dwelling, the ground it was on, and the proximity of the property to both woods and to civilization. In the case of this place, two-out-of-three will have to do. We are already in love with the ground and surrounding woods, and the proximity of the place to services is just right. Having said that, the dwelling leaves much to be desired. But that can always be fixed. Thanks for checking in.

      • I missed your actual move last year, as I was off blogosphere for a while, so I’m very happy to catch up on your news. Looking forward to your images and thoughts from your new location … and, yes, houses are easier to improve than landscapes😊

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