Been workin’ like a dog, slavin’ on the fence line
Stretchin’ those wires tight…and sweatin’ in the sunshine.
But I get off tonight. I got a date with a girl
and we’re headin’ to the county fair.
Songs about ranch hands and horses blared from the dash of my pickup when I drove to Texas twenty years ago. The Amarillo Diocese needed priests and I needed land to raise cows and break colts.
God answered my prayers.
Twenty years later, I’ve sold my cows and hung up my training saddle. But I still have horse stalls to clean and a truck to drive. Investing in rural life benefited my priesthood as well as my diocese—practically as well as spiritually. This morning, for instance, I’m heading to a convent to help build fence for some Franciscan Sisters who want to graze cattle.
Several farmers are already pounding posts by the time I arrive. I’m handed a bucket full of metal fasteners and sent to the south side of the forty-acre lot.
It is mid-December and the air is clear and cool. Clipping wire to posts is solitary work. My mind starts to review significant events from recent days: a great-nephew unharmed in a grain truck accident; dancers with feathered headdresses twirling like whirlwinds on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe; a deep conversation with a brother priest; the improved attitude of my younger horse; the fiery blaze of today’s sunrise. Each blessing counted and clamped with the satisfying gripe of pliers on twisted wire.
A tractor pulls up. The cab door swings open. The farmer inside wants help laying wire on the opposite end of the pasture. I climb in. On the way to the far corner, he asks me to say a prayer. He pauses. His boy. Meth-head. Now in rehab. Third time. He shakes his head and I nod mine.
We bounce our way across fescue grass, the sound of the motor loud and hard inside the cab. When we reach a row of lonesome posts, we stop, make the Sign of the Cross and send up a plea.
Later, back on my side of the pasture, I try humming Chris LeDoux’s song about stretching wire. But other lyrics, just as country but a lot more troubled, intrude:
The chute opens, the bull draws blood,
and the gift is accepted by God.
In this barbed wire town
of barbed wire dreams
I’m in my bedroom
on the verge of a terrible thing.
The words grab my gut like the sight of a rib-thin horse. The rest of the day, I feel no sun on my face, only the prick of barbed wire on open skin…and the press of a glove to slow the bleed.
 “A Terrible Thing,” from Pressure Machine by The Killers