“Standing out, often in a treeless landscape, [ranch gates] are pragmatic and ornamental, workaday and symbolic, modest and monumental, private expressions with a public face.” –Kenneth Helphand
After Bruce completed the farm entrance and the gate was finally hung, we came driving into the property in Bruce’s vehicle. I got out, lifted the wire latch, gently pushed, and I marveled at how easily the balanced gate swung open. In addition, the entrance and gate were both beautiful works of handcrafted wood.
As I climbed back into the Toyota 4Runner Bruce said, “When the mules are gone, maybe we’ll leave this gate open.” Before I could reply he said, “Well maybe not—stopping to open the gate makes me pause and take a breath. I need that. Otherwise I’d race in and not think about . . . the land.” His comment took me by surprise, because I’d just read something similar from Kenneth Helphand, a Professor of Landscape Architecture, who believes traveling through a ranch entryway is “an invitation to think about [the] deeper meaning in the landscape.”
Although the sixteen- foot tall farm entryway is positively utilitarian, in that, it serves to hold the fence in place; this graceful archway could also be described as a type of boundary art, because not only does it affect the “eye, . . . heart, [and] mind” of those who pass through, but boundary art stands for “basic truths that are no longer simple or easily understood.” The boundary of what constitutes an American farm or ranch is no longer clear. What does it mean to run a small farm in an era of mega-production farms? Traditionally entryways were emblazoned with the rancher’s cattle brand and name of the ranch. Just the lack of cattle brand and ranch or farm name on our entry suggests Mule Springs may find an identity outside of cattle ranching and crop production.
Bruce’s handmade entrance invites one to enter a unique private space. The private space is the world of Mule Springs with its revolutions spinning around plantings and land management, water issues, and building bird and animal habitat. The “public face” of the entry symbolizes our vision, dreams, and goals. As new uses are found for old barns, the acreage of the twenty-first century landowner may expand to include farming that also manages for pollinators, bird habitat, and native plants.
I’m glad Bruce imagines the gate closed just so it can be opened by someone who might notice the glint of golden bunchgrass bending with the prairie breeze.
*Below is a slideshow showing some of the process Bruce went through to make the entryway and gate. Family helped put the entrance together, and our builders Tim, Hymee, and Manee helped Bruce hang the gate.