Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How To See the Country

There are different ways of seeing the countryside. It is, of course, a very different thing to drive through it on the way somewhere, protected from all but the most immediate visual stimuli, than it is to live in it permanently or, as in my case, semi-permanently. It is quite different again to work in it, and have to struggle with it daily to earn a living for yourself and your employees, and generally make it profitable, which is, as people easily forget, the point of having a farm in the first place.

But assume you are in the country and have enough free time to take a good look at it; what's the best way to see it?

Well, there isn't a best way. One thing that is usually worth doing is to climb to the highest point you can find and have a good look at the whole area, or as much as possible, to gain an idea of what it is that is happening around you. You can see how much of it is sown, and with what, how much of it is woods, or scrub, or mountains, what birds fly over it and where the nearest villages are.

You also need to look at it at different levels, down to the close-up you get when looking for asparagus in the spring and you have to check beneath every tree, picking up leaves and spines, and spiders and other crawling things that live in the spaces you have to squeeze into.

During much of the day it's too hot for sensible animals to be out and about, so walking at or just before dawn, or near or even after sunset, if there's a good enough moon, will give you a much better idea of what lives around you. And you need to do it often. The real surprises are only for those who persevere, but you share your little bit of turf with far more things than you probably realize. And down here, some of them can kill you (particularly the millipedes, which are very nasty things. I had one up my trouser leg once, but for some reason it didn't sting).

And then there's means of locomotion. Walking is the most obvious choice, and in many ways the best one. You can go almost anywhere (see previous post), you don't have to pay attention to anything other than what strikes you at any moment, you are exposed to all the sights, sounds and smells without interference, and you can choose your rhythm, even stop or change tack whenever you see something interesting.

The bicycle is useful too. It's quicker, so you can go further, and it gives you a very good feel for the terrain- you notice every bump, every up-slope or down-slope, however slight, and your head is just a bit higher. On the other hand you can't respond so easily to stimuli, and you have to be constantly aware of rocks, ruts, small furry animals and bends in the path; on the road the demands on your attention are so great that it can be hard to see anything but the white line and the traffic.

I don't ride horses, but those who do point out that someone else is doing all the work, you have a much greater range of speeds to work with and, when decked out in morning dress with your head 9 feet up in the air, the sense of owning the three neighbouring provinces is quite exhilarating.

Don't forget the air. Not for everyday use, perhaps, unless you have a microlight, but the chance to see roads and railways as thin threads changing direction constantly for no apparent reason as they disappear off the edge of the world, and the land as a patchwork of all colours, shapes and sizes, and to move between places you thought were a long way apart by the merest movement of the eye muscles, should not be missed when it arises.

Choose your time and your vehicle (Shanks's pony for preference) and go and have a look. There is always something new.

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