How building a fence can kill you

I’m still working away on some very interesting creative projects. I’ll tell you about them soon, but I’ve had something else eat up enormous chunks of my time. We’ll file this in the “life happens” category. This is the story of my fence.

My backyard wooden fence was like a sick old family member that was progressively falling apart and shutting down. Being the caring relative I am, I gave moral support and kept extending longevity with scrap bits of wood and two-inch screws to hold it all together. It was a good arrangement. Then, last spring, a fierce wind storm blew two rotten sections to smithereens, posts and all. The rest of the fence was sagging and one gust away from falling too. And as I would do for any family member gasping for a final breath, I kicked the rest down and threw it away. Time for a new fence!

The company I hired to install the posts refused to dig three of the holes because of cables and pipes running underground. If they hit something, they would be responsible for repair costs. So they recommended that I hand-dig those three holes myself. It would require care and patience.

Making sure that I was digging a full two feet away from the locate lines sprayed on my lawn, I dug the first hole but it wasn’t quite deep enough. The rule of thumb for post hole depth is about one-third the fence height, but my shovel just couldn’t dig deeper into this rock-hard soil. I gave up and moved on. The next two holes went a lot deeper and I learned some digging techniques. I hit some difficult, thick roots, but I found I could sever them if I made direct and forceful jabs with my straight-edge shovel. So I went back to the first hole and found I was making great progress. three, then four inches deeper. I thought, maybe just one inch deeper. Yes, one more inch would do it. As I was about to destroy yet another root, I stopped. This root felt different under my shovel. I put down the shovel, took off my glove and leaned into the hole with my bare hand stretched. Deeper, deeper, and then I touched the root. That’s when I discovered it wasn’t a root. My middle finger felt a tingle.

Have you ever touched an electrified fence? I have. My grandfather had an electrified fence on his farm, and he’d grip it with his right hand and encourage the grandkids to link hands with his left in an electrified chain of children. I’ll never forget what it felt like to be a conduit of electricity.

Oddly, touching this cable in my post hole wasn’t nearly as shocking.

Nothing happened to me when I touched it. Well, nothing serious. My body hair fell out from the crotch down and my toenails turned black, but otherwise I’m unscathed. I made up that last bit. I came away completely unharmed. I was lucky. But I still have this live hydro wire at the bottom of a hole in my backyard. A crew from the hydro company will repair it tomorrow. I’m not looking forward to the bill I’ll be presented with once this is all fixed up. My power didn’t go out in the house, so I’m hopeful that this is just a minor nick in the cable.

One day I’ll have a beautiful fence in my backyard. Hopefully very soon.

On a side note, I’m climbing the CN Tower in support of the United Way this Saturday. I’m excited and completely unprepared. Below is a drawing I made after completing the climb in 2009.

Dan Holst Soelberg is climbing the CN Tower for the United Way