Fence

An old pickup and a pallet make for quick fence repair.

Short sentences have impact.

They draw our attention.

Prose with a punch.

No wasted words.

“The eagle has landed.”

“Go ahead, make my day.”

“Jesus wept.”

This past week I was in a meeting. My phone buzzes. It’s my wife, Sherry. Call goes to voicemail.

She calls again. That means business. I answer. I hear four words. Are they ...

“The house is burning”? “We’re out of milk”? “Lid is up again”? “The cows are out”?

Although I’ve heard all of those phrases before — some more than once — the correct answer this time is “D.” The cows were out.

It was spring break for the Scottish Highlanders.

Since November we’ve had the herd confined to their winter feeding area near the main farm buildings. They have access to water from the creek.

Knowing their penchant for testing fortifications, I electrified their fence. Most of the winter the confinement went well, with just a few episodes of “Bart Gone Wild.” Bart — the bull — needed to check out the nearby ladies whenever my cousin got new cows.

But the wet winter and spring thaw created a quagmire in their pen. Lately I’ve been dropping round bales just over the fence for fear of becoming stuck. With hay that close to the fence, the cows knocked out my electric wire.

Then recently one bale fell into the fence. It was close to dark, and I knew a breakout was imminent. So I used my dad’s truck, a pallet, a roll of wire and — what else — baling twine to implement a temporary emergency repair.

Two weeks later the expiration date of my temporary repair came about when Sherry saw my handiwork closely. I effected a more permanent repair with hog panels and wire.

All was well in Highland land.

For a few hours.

That night we received more than 2 inches of rain. Our tranquil stream turned into a raging torrent. I checked the cows in the morning and all seemed well. But the rising water had washed out the section of the fence that crossed the creek. The green on the other side was wide open.

After I hurried home — still obeying all traffic, speed and safety laws, of course — I found that four cows and the bull had ventured out. The rest were still in the feeding area.

I opened the gate to their spring and summer pasture, and the cows headed out. The four escapees followed them after I put the wires down to let them in. Bart followed suit once he saw his harem on the hill.

Two days earlier Sherry and I had walked the fence in the pasture. There were a couple of spots that needed repair because the cows were now there. So I grabbed some posts and my chainsaw. Sherry carried the post pounder.

The previous week, two of our yearlings found a loose spot in the wires, so we needed to round them up. The challenge was crossing the creek bottoms, where pools of black mud will suck off your knee boots if you misstep. The muck was so thick it was like walking through a pot of glue. I went first, carefully plotting a path where I wouldn’t sink in as much. Sherry followed.

I was heading toward the repair point when I heard a familiar refrain. Loud and short sentences of colorful metaphors inappropriate to quote in a family paper.

I turned around to see Sherry pulling herself up from the muck. She had just about reached the other side when she stepped into the abyss. Trying to keep her balance and hold the post pounder, she fell forward.

Thankfully she didn’t do a face plant, but as she tried to stand up and pull her foot loose, she fell backward.

More metaphors emerged.

It was cold and windy. She was covered with wet black mud. Unhappy camper does not come close.

To shorten my long story with some short sentences, we did fix the fence. The cows are so far happy in their pastures of green. Clothes were washed. A hot bath and glass of wine provided some tonic relief.

Former La Crosse Tribune editor Chris Hardie and his wife, Sherry, raise sheep and cattle on his great-grandparents’ Jackson County farm.

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