Beetle fences

You may know them as snow, sand, or drift fences. They come in various forms, usually either wooden slats wired side-by-side, or perforated orange plastic sheeting strung on stakes. They may be solidly planted, permanent fences or rickety, temporary-looking installations.

I’ve seen them on the few beaches I’ve visited. But I know them better for their ubiquity across the Great Plains of the western U.S., where we swear the snow and dust and the winds that carry them come unimpeded all the way from Canada. They cluster along the roads like lonely sentinels, forgotten in the vastness of the prairie, but depended upon to fend off whatever the winter storms might bring.

I first came to know these fences as a child, watching the plains roll by on long summer drives from Oklahoma City to the cool Colorado mountains. Unlike the endless miles of barbed wire fencing — unfenced stretches of road were rare, even then — the snow fences appeared in short bursts and clusters, in the places most vulnerable to winter drifting. They stood there catawampus but resolute, weathering in the rain and sun to the perfect shade of belongingness.

I love those old wood fences. They have character. They belong to the land. And they always remind me of my dad. He was the one who told me so many years ago that they are called “beetle fences.” Why? “Because you put ’em up in fall and leave ’em be till spring.”


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