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July/August 2013 – On yields

The productivity of an unscheduled walk in the country

The walk, from the field where I was baling hay, to our house, about 30 minutes away, was anything but planned. My ride failed to show. I was in a hurry, cranky, tired. My mind was on yields, not roadside hedgerows and dickie birds.

I was in a mode for work, not a saunter.

Yet the walk was more productive than I could have anticipated.

At the point where I scrambled over the fence and onto the road there had been an accident some years ago. I had seen the broken fenceboards from the truck as I drove past many times, but I’d never had a close look. Now, I could see there was a long abandoned rope hanging in a tree, most likely a leftover from a hydro crew replacing a sheared power pole. My first impulse was to take it but I have plenty of ropes in the workshop. I realized that if I simply left it, I’d know there would be a rope if I ever needed one on this stretch of road. There is something marvelously comforting about knowing you have caches of useful items throughout your community.

My walk took me down one hill and up another, and I was reminded of a conversation I had about hill names with a very old woman. At the time I was researching a book on local history in a nearby community. She kept referring to Hospital Hill and Drake’s Hill, and so on. How was it, I asked, that all the hills had names?

She explained that if I had grown up in the days of horse and buggy, as she had, I’d know all too well why hills had names. Going up and down hills was much more eventful with a horse and buggy than it is with a vehicle. The hills acquired names, much the same way as headlands and shoals do for mariners. Hills were important in people’s daily lives.

From that memory, I found myself wondering about how technology had changed our relationship with the land. Certainly cars and trucks removed us from several levels of intimacy with topography. But it isn’t quite right to say that technology always leads to a loss of contact with the landscape. In our community, anyone with a cell phone understands there are spots of good, patchy and zero cell service. We all know where they are, and often refer to them, in much the same way the old timers did to the hills. Cellular service, or the lack of it, is another way for us to relate to the land.

Bored of thinking about hills, I paused at the bridge over Bilston Creek and kicked some pebbles off the decking and watched with delight as they fell to the water below. All ripples are good but big ripples are better, so I found a big rock and let it fly. I am an eight-year old boy in a 52 year-old man’s body. I renewed a vow with myself to always take time to drop pebbles from bridges.

By the time I arrived home my bad knee was sore but my heart was good. The walk had generated a discovery, a memory, a moment of delight and this final thought—that good yields can come in many forms.