Running around remote areas of New Mexico, you might start to wonder if the state’s greatest human accomplishment isn’t the atom bomb after all, but rather it’s countless miles of barb-wire fencing. The stuff’s everywhere, but you don’t think much of it — at least not until you’ve tried your hand at putting fences up yourself.
Outside Las Vegas
My most recent experience putting up fencing was a couple months back, on a friend’s property outside Las Vegas, New Mexico. From the perspective of a real estate agent, the several-acre patch of land is empty and undeveloped — hardly worthy of added security.
An ecologist, however, would see a place that’s very full and developed indeed — sage and piñon, cholla and wild grasses, fauna darting and flitting about. A place worthy of protection from the ravages of livestock grazing (I’ll get around to ranting and raving about the virtues of veganism one of these days) and off-road vehicles.
Sometimes fences feel superfluous, if not downright hostile. All too often they are tools in the service of power and fear — means to exclude. Other times, though — and this is certainly the case here — they are crucial elements of conservation.
Art, Function And Metaphor
If you haven’t had the pleasure, packing dirt around around fenceposts is pretty serious work — especially if you’re at elevation. I think it took me fifteen or twenty minutes of vigorous tamping per post. I was breathless at the end of each, my mind swimming with endorphins and tangential musings. One thing I wondered to myself was: “What is a fence, and what kind of enterprise is fence-building?”
Yes, there is obvious utilitarian value in the foreground here, but is there more to it? Might we think of fences collectively as a sort of Earthwork like the Nazca Lines or Spiral Jetty? Might we find aesthetic appreciation in cedar wood and coils of wire and the way they run through and redefine the landscape?
Then what about fence-as-metaphor? Internal fences — invisible forcefields that keep us from greeting a stranger or otherwise inhibit us from acquiescing to random impulses. How free are we really?
Eventually, my mind’s wanderings took me to a more global — even cosmic — register. More and more, I realize that every exercise, every interaction, every slice of space and time, seems to be able to illustrate facts about every other. (Or, at the very least, facts about cognitions of other cognitions, which is to acknowledge that we’re never granted direct access to anything but our own conscious experience.)
It’s like a holograph, wherein each pixel contains information about every other. Fence, cave, rock, tree, star, canyon, music making — all can serve as illuminating lenses for the slice of reality we’re privy to thanks to our senses and mental faculties. Anything, if you attend to it closely, can serve as a finger pointing to the moon.
(Today’s sunny photo of fencing on the Plains of San Agustin is courtesy of Natalie Rae Good’s Tumblr.)