Mending fences

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(Host) With a tip of his red plaid hat to poet Robert Frost, commentator Will Curtis says that good neighbors make good fences.

(Curtis) Sugar season ends when the maples begin to bud and the sap produces ‘Grade B’ syrup. The end of the season is sometimes called the frog runs: when the peepers peep, it’s time to quit sugaring and think about spring chores.

The spring job that most concerned me and my neighbors when we were farming was getting out the manure that had accumulated during the winter. Of course we had spread it when we could during the winter but most years, we had to stop when the snow became too deep. By spring the manure pile looked like Mt. Everest. Today, we know that spreading manure while the ground is frozen is wasted effort; it simply runs off and pollutes the streams and rivers.

In our neighborhood, back then, we made the onerous task a joint effort. We four farmers got together with our tractors, loaders and spreaders and did the messy job as easily and quickly as possible.

Getting out the manure was the big job but the spring chore I most looked forward to, was fixing fence. I would call my neighbor, “Jim, you want to fix fence tomorrow? Let’s meet where our land runs together at the bottom of the hill.”

Winter plays havoc with fences: posts are broken, trees fall across wires, stone walls collapse. Before the cows are turned out into the pastures in May or the young heifers into the back 40, your fences had better be in good shape. There’s nothing like a herd of heifers to do a job on fences; and there’s nothing they like better than to get into a nearby vegetable garden.

It makes sense to work on common fence lines together with a neighbor. Jim and I would meet after milking, our carpenters’ aprons filled with staples. One of us would carry extra cedar fence posts and the other brought along a heavy mallet to drive them in. Together we spliced broken fence wire, drove in new posts and straightened up others, and gossiped.

We had heard that a bear had been reported in our woods during the winter and sure enough in the beech grove at the top of the hill we saw claw marks where a bear had shinnied up a beech tree to get at the beech nuts. On one big old beech a farmer’s son had carved his initials with the date, 1929. Maybe he had been on the same job we were doing, fixing fence. Jim remembered that the boy didn’t care to carry on the farm; he moved away to Massachusetts and ran a garage. We agreed that we couldn’t think of anywhere better to be than right where we were, fixing fence together along our common boundary.

Will Curtis of Woodstock Vermont.

Will Curtis is an author and naturalist.

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