Barbed Wire


Spring comes to the calendar far sooner than it comes to the frost sodden prairies. So when the sun began vengefully to dry out the snowbleached landscape, I pulled out all the tasks I had been saving for warmer days and headed out to the coullee with my camera to scout some locations for the remaining shots of my book trailer.

Never heard of a book trailer? It's like a movie trailer. But for books. Well, obviously.

The wind was only just beginning to ply the long grasses up from the ground where they've been frozen flat for months. Everything was bright and golden and just so darn springish and it had been such an age since I had been for a real walk, that I was feeling a little dizzy under the enormity of the prairie sky.

My neighborhood drops off into grassland and hills only a couple of blocks from my house. And along either side of the asphalt path, the wild scrub is interrupted in odd places by derelict fences strung with barbed wire. And I am hopelessly distracted now. Because my eye is ever attracted to the rusted, weathered and grungy. And I find a sort of gritty romance in a paint-marked, fallen fencepost, coiled with wire that was cut and has snapped back on itself.

Fences keep things in or out. But a barbed wire fence is especially insidious because it's harder to see and is meant to inflict pain. A wandering deer might think it's free with all the prairie stretched before it, but no. It's fenced. All it has to do is attempt to step out of bounds and it will feel it.

It reminds me of my years at the United Nations, watching people tear down walls and put up barbed wire fences in their place. You're free, they cry, and it certainly does look that way. Run in any direction you like. As long as you don't try to step out of bounds. Then you'll feel it.

Unless you're free to disagree, to question, to change your mind suddenly, to stubbornly refuse to budge, to be a bleeding heart or an arrogant jerk, you are not free. No one wants people to be biased, prejudiced or bigoted. But if they aren't free to be so, then none of us are really free at all. We're just corralled by a nearly invisible fence. Forced to be someone else's idea of 'good'.

If we are free to choose, then we are free to choose wrong.

And so I find romance in barbed wire that has been cut.

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