When I was thirteen years old, my father showed me how to put in a straining post for a fence. He explained that you dig a narrow hole vertically down into the ground as far as you can until you can’t dig any further. That’s when you lie down and reach in with your arm, scooping out the soil with your hands until you’re out of your depth once and for all. Then it’s time to put in the post, level it up and starting backfilling the hole around it. Using a pinch bar, every few inches of soil are tamped down until they are packed tightly around the wood and get a firm grip.
Done right, soil packs well enough to hold a post as firmly as any concrete, and no matter how tempting it is to tamp in big stones to firm up the backfilling process, you should always avoid doing so because in the fullness of time, the wooden post would one day rot and need replacement. Digging out a post that has been tamped in with stones is a bastard of a job, and the logic was that the person burying the strainer was making it easy on the person who would have to dig it up again.
I noted this wisdom less because of the specific context and more because it conjured up some really nice ideas about the countryside. Posts like these can last for decades, so in all likelihood the person burying the post would be long gone by the time it required renewal. The philosophy had its roots in doing a job well and appreciating the fact that we’re all in the same boat, working in the same direction, generation after generation. When you dig up a rotten post, you quietly thank the nameless man who buried it there because he went the extra mile to make your job easier. You feel obliged to return the favour, passing it on for whoever comes next.
As I found this morning, there is a more modern school of thought which reckons on cement as the best foundation for a straining post; almost the polar opposite in terms of sustainability and forethought. It was only with a tremendous amount of sweat and labour that I was finally able to lever this monstrous plug of cement out of the ground, and the job took an hour or more longer than it should have done. Forget the frustration of a few stones tamped around the post – this was misery redefined.
I’m sure there are the beginnings of a parable in there somewhere.