I remember, years ago, when I saw one for the first time. As I approached the 30-acre Ranchette, located on the front range of the Colorado Rockies, I could not for the life of me figure out what the long, shining row of white was. At first I thought it was a snow bank that lay along the side of the road. The sun shining on its surface glimmered across the horizon like the blinding glare of the Bonneville Salt Flats. As I drove closer I could see that the long, low row of white was divided into three horizontal bands between perfectly spaced vertical columns of equally brilliant shining white.
"By golly," I said to myself. "I think it's a fence!"
Closer inspection revealed that indeed it was a fence. A bonafide, genuine, factory made, bleached bone-white assemblage of petroleum byproduct. It was a plastic fence.
My first thought was skepticism in regards to just how long such a fence would retain its perfect symmetry in the harsh ultra-violet rays of Colorado sun and the wild swings between freeze and thaw of Colorado winters. My second thought was a self-proclaimed solemn vow that I would never, ever, as long as I lived, buy or build a plastic fence.
"Some things," I reasoned, "are just best left to the natural order of things."
I figure that if God had intended for us to have white plastic fences, He would have made white plastic trees so we could cut them down and mill them into nice round posts and long, full 2X6's for rails. Fences are supposed to have posts made of hedge, pine, cedar, discarded railroad ties, old telephone poles, power-line cross arms, broken drive-shafts, T-posts, sucker rod and recycled lamp posts not hollowed out, preformed plastic. And the space between fence posts should be rough-cut pine rails, cable or wire, barbed or smooth, that is the natural order of things. In my own defense, I do hereby acknowledge that there are those who believe me to sometimes be narrow-minded and opinionated.
Anyway, during my next trip to town I stopped at the local urban farm and ranch supply (where pink flamingo yard ornaments are stocked next to black plastic roping dummies) and checked out this new-fangled fencing material. The price tag alone served to solidify my pledge to never buy or build.
So, in my little corner of the world, I continued to build and repair my fences of wood, steel and wire while the land around me was sold, subdivided and surrounded by perfect, white, three-rail plastic fences.
Although I was not thrilled about the encroaching development I did my best to be a good neighbor. I cut and baled my hay in the cool of pre-dawn summer days so as not to disturb their morning coffee. But the fresh country air must have invigorated these former city dwellers, because many times I saw kitchen lights come on at 4:00 AM. I tried to scatter the manure across the fields when the wind was down, but that doesn't happen very often on the front-range and even I don't think the smell is particularly pleasant. But, I never complained about their white plastic fences.
At the far western boundary of my irrigated alfalfa field I maintained a fence line of woven wire topped by two strands of barbed wire and supported by an assortment of T-posts, rail ties and ancient cedar. The fence had been there for decades before me and had served its purpose admirably well. So, I saw no reason to replace it when my new neighbor asked if I was willing to share the cost of a new fence, one that was, as he put it, more esthetically pleasing. Although I told him that the existing fence was perfectly fine by me, he insisted on constructing his own fence right next to mine. It was a white, three rail, plastic fence.
The following spring, as I prepared to irrigate the alfalfa field I had to first burn off the ditches so that the flow of water was unimpeded and allowed for a more efficient use of the rationed water supply. My irrigation ditch ran parallel to my western boundary fence that was now backed up by useless, picture perfect white plastic.
My son, Tim J., and I chose a calm, cool spring day to set flame to the weed and grass choked ditch that ran the length of the fence line. I walked ahead with a drip torch while Tim J. patrolled with an ever-ready pitchfork and shovel. All went well until a renegade wind whipped up the flames and intensified the speed, coverage and heat of our intended controlled burn. As quick as one could say, "Jack be nimble" we were in the midst of a raging firestorm.
"Dad! Help!" I heard my son yell.
I turned to see what was happening and saw Tim J. surrounded by flames that often reached as high as his head. The long handled, flat shovel that he carried was virtually worthless against the rapidly spreading inferno. I peeled off my shirt as I raced back to help him then jumped into the flames where he stood and beat down the flames at our feet. As we frantically shoveled dirt over the spreading fire, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the first shining white fence post disappear.
It was as if a giant mole had grabbed the earthbound base of the post and pulled it under. The three scorched rails shriveled on the ground, writhing among the flames like a living marshmallow snake then burst into flames as the next hollow post was sucked into the netherworld.
We alternately laughed and cried and cursed as our eyelashes burned off, my mustache singed and shriveled, boot leather blistered and our shirts burned through while my neighbors white plastic fence lay bubbling on the ground.
Sometimes we have to eat our words, even the crispy ones. I bought and built a white plastic fence. My only consolation was, it wasn't mine.