lessons learned: fence posts, hard work, and things that matter

In his view, we were already a success, because we were doing something hard and it was something that mattered to us. You don’t measure things like that with words like success or failure, he said. Satisfaction comes from trying hard things and then going on to the next hard thing, regardless of the outcome. What mattered was whether or not you were moving in a direction you thought was right.

~Kristin Kimball, The Dirty Life:  On Farming, Food, and Love

There are not many mornings when I can wake up and say this, but I actually feel the new muscles I discovered yesterday.  Oh, honey, do I feel them.

You see, yesterday, I began volunteering at a farm animal sanctuary.  My goal–to connect with creation, to learn new skills, and to fuel my passion.

Oh yeah, and to find new muscles.

Yesterday, my assumption was that I was meeting the ranch owner, talking about volunteer opportunities, and taking a tour.  I couldn’t have been further from wrong.

After completing the paperwork, the owner sized me up , and said, “We gotta build a fence.”  That was all.  We gotta build a fence.  And so we did.

photo from informedfarmers.com

While I will save the details for another blogpost, I’ll share a few tips here.  Building a fence for most animals requires sinking the fencing in the ground–especially if you’re replacing pen fencing for pigs who love to root.  Building a fence requires strong fence posts and securely attached fencing.  It’s not about just keeping animals out or in, it’s also about keeping them safe.  It’s hard and time consuming work, especially if your goal is the latter, not just the former.

And so the day’s journey began with hauling fence posts cut from trees midway up the ranch property.  As we walked up there, the goats sized me up and chattered–I think they were placing bets on how long I’d last.

After bringing a fence post down, the owner began showing me how to dig a hole with manual post hole diggers.  The farmer noted to me that it takes time and a lot of energy and care–not too big, not to small, just right.  (Where had I heard that before?  From a girl who was smart enough to run when she knew she was in over her head.)

As he worked on the hole, I was assigned the task of digging the trench for the fencing.  Easy enough except the hens who loved the opportunity for fresh worms kept scratching dirt back and forth into the spot where I had just dug.  Hrmph!

Soon, it was time to “set” the fence post.  I looked around for the concrete–that was the way we’d always done it in the suburbs.  Not here though.  The farmer took the time to explain to me that while it seemed more tedious, using the clay from the hole and the rock shims found in the pen actually created a tighter fit–the clay would bind back with the earth where as concrete would separate.  And so, layer after layer, he tamped down clay and rock, clay and rock.  The pigs snorted, the roosters crowed.  And soon, the post was finished.

Then the farmer looked at me and said, “You look like the kind of person who’d like to build her own fence one day.  It’s your turn–dig the next hole.”  And I did.

photo from veggiegardener.com

He worked on nailing the first panel in place while I dug.   The work was hard, really hard.   My muscles burned, my eyes filled with sweat, and I grew frustrated at the lack of progress.  I seemed to be getting nowhere.  I was determined though because I wanted this to work.  It mattered–to the pigs, the sheep, and me.  And in the end, I dug the hole, prepared the trench, and set the post.

After 2 hours, we’d completed three posts and three panels, enough to replace the damaged section.  It was hard work, but I left there bone-tired and satisfied because I had done something not just important, but something necessary.

I noted earlier in the week that I’ve encountered a few other hard tasks recently.  And as I worked on that fence post yesterday, I realized–one reason why they’re hard is because they involve people or things that matter to me.  They are not issues I can just put a band-aid on.  I want to take the time and energy and care because it is necessary, even if it is hard.

And yes, it makes me bone tired (and even soul tired), but the blessing is this–I get through it.  I learn new skills, I broaden my knowledge, and I develop stronger connections with the people I love.  I acquire new tools and “muscles” that will make the job easier next time.

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