You could wear a sweater if you like which you might take off and wrap around your waist later, after the hike up the sloping hill towards the far forest fringe.
Right now though it is best you wear your sweater because there is a touch of cool in the dampened grasses and the earthy path is soft in caress underfoot. Be careful for there are toads, small ones, those little wee ones that suddenly appear and then disappear into their miniature landscapes.
Before us, the fields are wide and open and shining in the new day’s sun and the song of birds saturates the air. It is the best time for the birds… early morning in the spring. They are robust with promise, playing for mates before the work begins. They catch the sky wind and clot on tree branches and hop and dance in search of insects. You can hear the flick of their feathers bursting from clumps of dried greenery.
There are fewer insects now then there will be when the heat arrives and the sounds of the fields hum and buzz. They are mostly content for the moment with some worms or beetles or sometimes an early caterpillar. They pay little attention to us as we walk, except perhaps the crows who are always curious.
We are near the foot of this hill but in truth if we turn and look we could see we are very very high up in the topography for this path leads up from the farmhouse by the road and beyond the land dips steeply for a long long time in furrowed fields to rest at the foot of an evergreen mountain. It is still misty there. Sometimes you can see deer foraging.
We are at the foot of the hill we are climbing. There is a stream running from the spring far right of us up another hill and a bundled hazelnut tree is budding early. It fills the space majestically there by the wooden bridge, a hodgepodge of logs crisscrossed and slippery wet. There is a scampering by the rush of water of some small animal. A rabbit? A mole? We cannot see in the underbrush. The violets that grow there are not out yet. The water in the stream is pure and cold from latent snow and will be fresh for later when we are tired. There are no tadpoles or salamanders yet to worry about when cupping your hands to drink. It is still too early.
Half-way up the hill you can see a cluster of bushes and that is what I’ve brought you to see. I don’t quite know why except it is something you must see now. At this time. At this time even in history. Something has told me to bring you here and so I have. I’ve brought you to see other things too but this is more important. It tells us stories we have forgotten or didn’t know or have never appreciated really. Maybe we can take its stories into our day now, into the chaos and contrived realities of modern life. Maybe.
We’re here now.
I know what you’re thinking. Why, you wonder, did I bring you here behind the bushes to show you a pile of rocks? It is a circular pile, about 12 feet in diameter and maybe 4 feet tall. There are all kinds of rocks but mostly flat grey and jagged brown ones. It is known as the rock pile in the far field and has always been a favourite place for inquisitive children who would poke and prod and lift up the rocks looking for snakes or lizards or treasures unknown. There is a fox den there too. If you look carefully.
It isn’t just a rock pile though. It is the sweat and dreams of generations. Of men and women who worked these fields of corn and peas and beans. The rows hoed and weeded and the pesky rocks taken and thrown or carted to the pile. For generation after generation. Different hands, different dreams. Rocks thrown by horse-drawn ploughs and aching bodies—hands rough and calloused. The hard hard labour—its testament silent in the sunny field. The fields now clear were once forests chopped and hacked and sawed and burned to make the wide gardens. A little more every year. Effort beyond effort. It was not a life that came easy. Not ever. For the ones that came from away.
The ones that came from away were pawns of foreign governments but mostly fleeing persecution of some sort, of poverty and overpopulation or war or fascism. The desperate fight for personal freedom. They came with a price paid we can only imagine now.
Some came with arrogance of class but the ones who worked the fields came only with hope and tools to build a life. It was a chance. It was all they had. And the first winters of this place when they came were wicked with snow and cold. Some of the hardest years on record. They lived in log houses they built until a generation later they could build a bigger house, a finer place, a place to raise the future. The logs of the rudimentary houses would then be used to make criss-crossed fences to keep out the deer and keep in the cows. They became a place to sit and rest.
And a person would stand on the veranda of the big house and know the sweet rest of centuries of toil. There were few rocks now for the pile. The fields were fine and smooth and fertile. Beyond, the forest was dappled dark and musky and ripe with moss and the scent of leaves. Let me take you there. It is not so far away. Through the opening there is a bit of a trail.
I’ll take you there but not for long. It is a tangle to get lost in if you are not used to it. That place. Keep your eyes out for the arrowheads. They are sometimes wedged in old trees or poking out of roots. If you dig them up they are still sharp and cool to the touch and you can feel a wilderness of worlds unknown now. They were made by a people now long gone who did not stay more than a season in any one place. They grew their crops in summer and went to the forest to hunt in winter.
These peoples did not mix with the ones who came from away much. There was so much land to share. This group anyway who were curious but contained. A gentle group. It was different for other groups. But this group did not take up their arrows for war. They shifted behind trees and scampered behind bushes and you would hardly know they were there. Sometimes they would trade furs for novelties but they kept to the forests and far fields. They did not understand the need to settle in a home for the earth itself was home no matter where you were.
They’ve gifted us now even after all these years. We will not get lost because we can follow the trees where they have left their marks, their blazes. We learned this from them. We could perhaps have learned more but they were often gone when we went looking. We did not do this often for the work was overwhelming. The rock pile needed piling. It was the way it was.
But let us go home now. We can stop and drink from the stream. I know you’re thirsty. Coming out of the forest we can see the sun is higher now. We are going to drive back to the city where most everyone lives now. And there, where the concrete burns in the heat and the loudness of machines and cars and the mockery of colours and sounds breaks into a bustle of random toil, there we can see the new ones—the ones who have chosen to move and live here in our country.
They are from away. We can’t know what the fruit of their labour will be in the generations to come because we do not know their hearts yet. They have not yet made their pile of rocks. And we scuttle in the shadows of buildings and shift behind lampposts and watch with curiosity. They are different than us and yet alike. We know their piles will be built with different rocks.
We are a gentle people for the most part. We are not ones for war. We hope they cherish this. We remember persecution. We remember the toil in a foreign land when some did not want us here. We were not the ones to take up arms. We only wanted a home. We want for them what we learned so they too can find peace. We can only hold their hands in a struggle we vaguely remember. We have left our marks on trees for them to follow so they do not get lost. That is what we can give.
The peace of a nation is what we have to offer. We have worked very hard to achieve this and for a very very long time.
Peace. Here. Now. Hold on to it. Do not throw the future away for past grievances nor divisive politics nor arrogances of religion when there is work to be done building a holding place for generations to come. It is your chance.
You are not your politics. You are a human being with children to raise and a world to find. Fight for peace. It is not time to build fences. It is not time for war. We are not your enemies. It is time to gather rocks, not throw them. We will help you if you want. We want to marvel at your rock pile just as you will one day.
Peace. Here. Now.
“Rebellion without truth is like spring in a bleak, arid desert.”
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