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Waiting for Zig

Seeing instead of looking

In retrospect, it was the bad dog that caused me to notice the crumbling wooden beam on an outbuilding and to realize, as a result, that I am too often guilty of simply looking at things instead of really seeing them for what they are. It is a deficiency that would do me, and the farm, much good to address.

We—Ziggy, the bad dog of this account, and I—were walking to Wootton field to check the sheep. Dusk was settling, there were chores to be done. I was, as is often the case, hurried. We were beside what we grandiosely call the tractor shed, a simple post and beam equipment shelter that I walk by several times a day, when Zig went tearing after a squirrel. I bellowed then while waiting for him to come back, got looking at the structure.

Built by my wife’s uncle who knows when, it consists of unpeeled fir posts, on concrete pier blocks, supporting pole beams. It is so low that the one tractor we have equipped with a ROPS cannot be parked far in for risk of knocking the whole thing over.

It was then that I noticed the key beam was rotted and actually buckled. A bump from a vehicle, a wet snow, heck, almost anything could knock the shed down, crushing whatever was underneath.

Clearly, this disintegration had been happening for some time, yet I only noticed it now. Why hadn’t I seen it on any of the treks past each day? The answer, I think, is that I unexpectedly stopped what I was doing and for the briefest of moments (waiting for Zig) I actually saw the shed for what it is, instead of looking at it as I expected it to be.

Too often life is an old Dirty Harry film on perpetual rerun—we watch it but we know what comes next, every scene, every line. Until I was forced to pause, the tractor shed was on a perpetual rerun too—I saw the same structure I had looked at for years. It had changed but my vision of it hadn’t.

Another, briefer account, to the same end. A week after Zig and I were walking, I got stuck in traffic after a rockslide blocked the highway. Again, I had my hurried schedule interrupted. I found a pen and paper in the truck, and while I waited for the road to open, I re-noodled my math on pig feed costs, and discovered I wasn’t properly factoring in the benefits of a new source of free bread and vegetables. I was “seeing” the math of hog costs in new way.

Counting on rockslides and squirrels is hardly a way to run a farm, but I think they hold keys to seeing more and looking less. Here is what I have come up with so far:

? be open to interruptions and disruptions—they are opportunities not problems;

? routines have drawbacks;

? nothing is the way it appears;

? when we look at things out of routine, we tend to see the same thing again and again, yet there are many different ways of seeing something afresh;

? despite the above, bad dogs are still bad dogs.