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Irons in the fire: An even temper and a good pair of pliers

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 August 2018
Wire stretcher

I was up on the mountain checking fences and water troughs before we moved the cows from one unit to the next.

And, as seems to be requisite for my course in life, one fiberglass trough had a hole in the bottom where a cow had stepped in it, the other rubber tire tank trough was slipping down the hill and, for a 3-mile stretch along a steep sidehill, every third post in the fence was either completely rotted and broken off or just barely hanging on – annoying facts but not unexpected or life-altering problems.

Although fixing fences and patching troughs can be tedious labor, after suffering through three weeks of 90-plus temperatures down in the valley, it was kind of a relief to get up above 8,000 feet and out of the unrelenting heat.

I was making pretty decent progress and had maintained a steady, if not cheery, attitude throughout most of the day – until I came upon it.

“It” can be a lot of different things. In this case, it was a spot in the fence where every wire had been cut and pulled back to make room for four-wheelers and ATVs to pass through and over the top of the ridge. Upon discovering the severed wires, I counted myself lucky just my dogs and a lone passing jackrabbit were the only witnesses to the ensuing tantrum.

The dogs actually ceased their pursuit of the jackrabbit to cover their ears, and the harried hare, upon hearing the gutter-worthy string of profane expletives spewing from my mouth, gave me a disdainful glance of shame as he skipped on by the dogs and off into the brush.

The criticism from the critters notwithstanding, I was earnestly ticked off. I was primarily furious at the unknown vandalizing imbeciles who destroyed the fence and, subsequently, the habitat that became victim to their new trail.

They did far more damage than any of my cows will ever do. This, in turn, steered my venomous thoughts to the U.S. Forest Service policy that brought about the closure and destruction of anything that, at one time or another, resembled a road, thus encouraging the few hunters and recreationists who ventured into that country to blaze their own trails.

I was really on a roll now. Once I let flames of righteous indignation grab a spark in the litter of my mind, the inferno took off like a California brush fire. In a matter of a couple of minutes, I was mad at the world. The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. The angrier I became, the further from reality I drifted.

Somehow, my fury raced eastward down off the mountain, through the tiny hamlet of Almo, Idaho, across Wyoming, into the heartland, past the East Coast and zipped all the way around the world, eventually sneaking up behind me, where it kicked me squarely in the, uh, tail.

It was a philosophical butt-whooping that was, regrettably, sorely needed. I had just wasted five minutes I would never see again. I’d done nothing but raise my blood pressure. Why on earth had I spent such energy on someone and something that will remain completely unaffected by my useless, mostly silent tirade?

I couldn’t change what had happened days or weeks before. My little conniption did nothing for my well-being, and it certainly didn’t fix the fence. The hole was still agape, and I still had a couple miles worth of fence awaiting my attention.

As I learned to breathe again, I grabbed the fence stretcher and commenced with the splicing. Yes, it would add 20 minutes to a job that already seemed to stretch into an endless horizon. But no amount of anger or cussing or mental fury or angst could help me in even the slightest of ways.

An even temper and a pair of pliers would serve me much better than useless exasperation ever would. All I can really do is take care of the things I can control. To believe otherwise is pure folly.

It was late, but as I made my way off the mountain that evening pondering my insightful reawakening, I determined that, surely, I was a changed man. No more wasted effort and energy on spilled milk and things I cannot change. From now on, I’d calmly deal with things as they came. 

The night was dark and moonless by the time I finally made it to the home place. As I turned the corner and passed the stack yard, just down the road from the house, out of the corner of my eye I saw the reflection of a horse’s eye in the headlights. Someone left the gate open again. Son of a … ! What the ….  end mark

PHOTO: Fence stretcher. Photo by Paul Marchant.

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