That’s my telephone line running horizontally across the pre-dawn. It used to didn’t look precisely as it does now. For a while, maybe a couple of years that piece of plastic electrical tape wasn’t hanging down from it, giving it a tidier, more professional appearance.
Before that, even, it had the standard non-innovative, regular stretched-across-to-the-house look you find in other, less interesting, living places.
When I moved into this cabin several years ago that phone line was one boring piece of wire with plastic insulation. All over this planet unimaginative people are gazing at telephone lines going to their houses, probably wondering what they could do to add some savoir faire, something with flair, to the scene.
Luckily, mine was the result of careful planning and artful inspiration.
The first few years I lived here this land was plagued with cows the owner of the place didn’t own, but didn’t want to put the money into fencing out. Fencing this place well enough to keep cows out would run in the neighborhood of $10,000, maybe higher.
But Texas, being the forward-thinking place it is, doesn’t require a person who wants to run cows to provide fences to keep them inside grazing on his own land. Texas figures if someone doesn’t want livestock belonging to someone else running all over him eating his grass, tearing things up, knocking things over, Texas, I was going to say, figures a narrow-minded person of that sort needs to put his money where his mouth is and build a fence.
The default position is that a cow’s gotta do what a cow’s gotta do and the onliest way a cow can be kept from doing it is for someone who doesn’t like it to belly up to the bar and pay to keep her from doing it. Beef prices being what they are you sure as hell can’t expect the man running the herd to pay for fencing them in. He’d be robbing himself of graze surrounding his own holdings. He’d be cutting into his own profit, lifestyle, devil-take-the-hindmost image, and he’d be eroding the tradition ranchers all over the west have worked hard for generations to maintain of being lowlife, cheap, greedy, penny-pinching scum who would do anything for a buck.
But I’ve digressed. I wanted to tell you about my phone line, how it came to pass that it needed to change from a regular piece of unbroken wire into the work of art you see before you in that pic.
There were cows running all over this place when I got here. They weren’t scared of anyone, nor anything, because they’d had it demonstrated nobody was going to shoot them and go to jail for it. The man who owned them lived a long way off somewhere, never checked on them, never fed them, and the drought going on here had left them some of the poorest, scrawniest, lousiest cows a person could want. There wasn’t a blade of grass on this, on any of the several other unfenced properties where they ran, more than an inch high.
But cows get lonely, even when they aren’t wanted. Out in the woods spending the night they can’t find water hoses to chew to pieces, things to knock over, break, buildings to rub up against to get rid to the fleas and ticks plaguing them. So, when those cows were here they loved to gather up around Gale’s house up on the hill, and around this cabin. We tried everything short of building an expensive bunch of fences to keep them out.
But I need to get to the telephone and quit this rambling.
One night when I’d had a bellyful of cows already I heard them outside the window. Things were falling and the sounds of them rubbing against other things told me to get the spotlight and have a look-see. Might have been 20-30 cows out there, a few feet from the window.
I grabbed the 12 gauge from behind the door, ran outside in my birthday suit, lifted that shotgun to my shoulder and carefully shot my telephone line in two. It was dark, but I heard it fall, knew something was amiss, but I could hear the fridge running, so I knew I still had electricity.
Next morning I looked around for something I could use to splice it back together, then twist around to get it back up sky-level instead of hanging around low for someone to forever be tripping on or cows chewing to pieces.
Art is function. Art is simplicity. Art conveys emotion, the human condition, the need of humans to communicate with other humans.
When you’re driving along and you see this sign it means you are in a free-ranging area and that the man running cows without having to fence them off the public right-of-way will get a prize-breeding-stock price for his beef from your insurance company if he can arrange a way for you to run one over.
That’s the reason you see straw scattered on the blacktop and in the grader ditch.
Afterthought: One positive thing about having those cows around was that Shiva the Cowcat and I used to spend a lot of quality time together running around the hills chasing those cows off with a slingshot. It kept me in shape and provided Shiva the Cowcat with cheap thrills of having something big run from her. Shiva misses those cows something awful.
Eddy Arnold – The Lonesome Cattle Call