Backaches, buses and barbed wire

Published 7:17 am Thursday, July 7, 2011

Column: Tales from Exit 22

I had a headache in my back.

I claim not to have headaches and that I am just a carrier. That’s not completely true. I am a carrier but I have suffered from disabling headaches for much of my life. A concussion resulting from a punishing tackle by a vicious linebacker after I had done a silly thing and caught a pass during a football game apparently was the origin. No matter the source, I often fall prey to migraines.

Email newsletter signup

I recall getting headaches while on tractors without cabs working the field. I would shut the iron horse down, climb from its uncomfortable seat, and would lie down under the tractor in the only shade available. There I’d remain until the pain subsided.

Back to the headache in my back. I was traveling over rough roads while seated in a bus. The back of a bus is no place for an experienced back, but what did I know. I’m a headache guy.

The bus deposited its passengers near a prairie where we would be walking and seeing amazing things. What isn’t there to be amazed about? The prairie was fenced so that it might be pastured.

I have been climbing over, under and through barbed wire fences most of my life. I slide under one to watch timberdoodles perform each spring. This bird, the American woodcock, does a dorky dance on the ground. It is so dorky, the bird should be wearing bellbottom pants or a leisure suit. It makes “peent” sounds. The timberdoodle takes to the air, spiraling overhead while twittering and chirping before descending to the earth like a dead leaf. It’s like a good episode of American Idol.

I don’t dislike barbed wire. I grew up surrounded by it, as if I were pastured. Our farm had cattle. A friend, Phil Morreim, collects barbed wire and I find his collection fascinating. I’ve built fences, dug post holes, stretched wire and hammered in staples. Traversing our farm came with its own exercise program — maneuvering past fences.

Being tall, I am able to step over most barbed wire fences. I find that easier than going through.

There was a gate somewhere but no one knew where. We found no stile. No problem. We practiced barbed wire etiquette. It was the buddy system. One or two people would hold the top strands up with hands or a stick (some old-timers used rifles or shotguns, but that might not be the best idea) while stepping on the bottom strands, This offered a door or window to climb through. Making an opening in a barbed wire fence is what we do if we’ve been raised right. I like to be one of those opening the window. It’s like holding a door for others. It gives my life purpose.

On the way out, others beat me to the job. I waited for everyone else to escape the pasture first. Curious cows watched our exit. No one showed the evidence of a life gone to waist, so there was no gouging of belly flesh. No one wore baggy pants, but a British woman tore her pants. The pants she had purchased for the express purpose of walking pastures and dealing with barbed wire fences. Some call it “bob wire,” I think she called it “devil’s rope.”

After I had commiserated with her misfortune, it was my turn to make good use of the kindness of others and move to the other side of the five-strand barbed wire fence. I bent parallel to the ground in order to fit into the passageway. I have torn both clothing and flesh on barbed wire often, usually because I rushed. Several times, because a bull hurried me. When you climb over a fence, you occasionally discover the reason for the fence. Haste makes scars, so I took my time. A helpful hand kept me lowered to a position of no harm. I had one leg over and was about to pull the other through when it happened. That’s when I got the headache in my back. I didn’t know backaches. I knew headaches.

When I straightened up, I didn’t straighten up. I had acquired a hitch in my getalong. I immediately went onto the Minnesota Twins’ disabled list due to lower back soreness.

Concessions could be made for a stiff back. A well-placed gate is a wonderful thing. A walk to a gate would do me good.

The good thing about having a sore back is that when I think back, I don’t have far to think.

Al Batt’s column appears every Wednesday and Sunday.