En Guard! A humorous tale involving fencing and the French fencing team's pointers.
One of the things, maybe the principle thing, you need to be able to do when you live a rural lifestyle is put up and maintain fences. And fencing is no longer limited to T-posts and barbed wire, no sir. Fencing materials now go all the way from a single hot wire on a flexible graphite rod (for the terminally optimistic) to nylon posts and "boards" with the look and feel of real wood (unless a spooked horse runs into one, in which case you then have lots of nylon chips for ground cover with the look and feel of real ... uhh ... nylon chips).
Today, the only real limitation on fencing materials and installation methods is the size of your current mortgage and the gullibility of your bank lender. Because fencing has gotten expensive. A single T-post that used to cost no more than a cup of coffee now costs the same as a blue plate special without the pie.
By the way, as you might have noticed, country folk frequently describe the cost of things in units of food. That's because it’s often a choice between eating and farming. The other day I was haggling over a used tractor generator and got Harvey Gollum, our local pawn shop owner, to drop the price by 3 pounds of bacon and a box of macaroni. I really foxed him. I would have settled for a gallon of milk and a pint of coleslaw.
Anyway, back to fencing. I've been putting up, taking down and repairing fence for more than 30 years now. I long ago broke with the patriarchal, rectilinear thinking of most fence installers. I've gone beyond that and developed my own, more organic fencing style. I mean, as long as the fence gets where it’s going, what does “straight” have to do with it? When you look down one of my fence "lines" you can see that here's an artist who's escaped the regimented and narrow-minded thinking of the old days. A real Picasso of the pasture.
And I've suffered for my art, oh yes. Why, the commentary about my fencing skills down at Big Bob Café's Table of Truth would crush a lesser man. That’s why I was so eager to stop on my way home from the city the other day when I saw a billboard outside a high school that said "National French Fencing Team Demonstration Today." As you might imagine, I was overjoyed. At last, a chance to share my vision with the more sophisticated, Continental practitioners of the fencing art!
Unfortunately, by the time I got into the auditorium, the demonstration was finished, and the French team was just leaving. But even at a glance I could tell these guys were pros. They were all wearing identical spotless white coveralls. Now that's optimism! I can get a pair of overalls dirty just by folding them to put in my dresser. I will admit to some confusion over the purpose of the wire mesh screens they were all wearing over their faces, until I remembered all the wasp nests I've run into while fencing.
Well, I didn't get a chance to see those boys in action, but fortunately I did manage to snag a pamphlet they left behind. The pamphlet consisted of a bunch of fencing terms and their definitions; unfortunately, the whole thing was printed in French, so the explanations that followed each of the terms made absolutely no sense. Also, at first I was confused by the little drawings beside each of the terms showing some guy in different poses, waving what appeared to be a willow switch around. (Wasps must be a horrible problem in France.)
Fortunately, my many years of fencing experience allows me to interpret many of these terms and explain some of the more common words and phrases in English. For example:
Lunge: The most basic movement in modern fencing, this most often will occur when you trip over an old wire or step into a gopher hole, usually while carrying a roll of fencing, a wire stretcher, and two or more T-posts. Often immediately followed by the utterance of various phrases d'armes, unless your children are there helping you.
Feint: May occur when you finally tally up the costs of the three rolls of field fence and T-posts you ordered from the feed store.
Disengage: A common occurrence with a young farmer when his fiancée gets a first look at the young farmer's pay stubs.
Dérobement: An action that occurs when the wasps get into your coveralls.
Riposte: What happens when you discover that you put the post in too shallow a hole.
Hilt: Where you end up when you step into a fence post hole after lunging with a full roll of barbed wire in your hands. As in, "My leg went into the hole right up to the hilt." Very often followed by phrases d'armes whether any youngsters are there or not.
Parry: I'm guessing it's a reference to the late Parry Farhnam, the first man to try stretching a quarter mile of barbed wire with an ATV.
Foil: The successful stopping of a cow trying to get through a three-wire fence when you only got one wire up.
En Garde: What you should have been doing when you failed to foil the cow's escape.
Passé: Straight fence lines.
Touché: How a fencing artist feels about the criticism at Big Bob’s.
Beat: A long day of lunging and ripostes.
Forte: What your farm looks like if you're married to an over-enthusiastic fence installer.
Coup de Gráce: Not a fencing term per se; it's a chicken enclosure made of hay bales.
Well, that’s all for now, but rest assured I’ll be En Garde for more innovative fencing ideas. Now I'm off to the pawn shop. Harvey's got an old ATV for sale, and once I cut off the quarter mile of barbed wire wrapped around it, I bet it’ll run fine. And I think I can talk him down by a side of beef and 2 pounds of coffee.
Humor writer and woodworker Don Lewis takes his fencing seriously around the family farm in Northern Idaho. His website is www.DonLewisDesigns.com.
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