Pip Creek

Notes

Land Stories

 

Disconnect sits everywhere around here. It’s been around for awhile. Maybe it, or its potential has always been here. I’m not exactly sure how long, although, looking around the abandoned homes and yard sites, with barns slumped and front doors pushed in and ajar, I suspect the land began to empty itself out about fifty years ago. And that’s likely where disconnect started.

 
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And so it is, from the cities, people begin to look outwards, to the horizon, and notice activity there on that line but are not quite able to make out what is happening. They might be able to see something is afoot, by the dust billows behind tractors dragging seventy foot cultivators or by the infrequent person traversing hard scrabble hilltops or rich, loamy flats. But the character is lost, there is no plot to follow. The division widens. The disconnect between what is needed and what is grown and how they are each interpreted and valued becomes dishearteningly clear. The cities, with their lack of horizon and stars begin to grumble, uncertain if they should believe the stories they here about the horizon lands, and unable to know the deep roots from which stories gather their energy. The story continues to fade.

And here, on the horizon, what is the happening? Here, in this place, these uplands are set to pour out their snow and rain as creeks charging forth for a very few, frenzied days. Soil will be stirred up, moving down the valleys to lakes and bigger rivers, taking nutrients and eons of dissolving mineral and decayed humic poplars and blue stem with them. Talk might shift for a short bit at coffee, around round tables set out in the rink, whether valley towns are set to flood out again or if the lake will turn as green as it did last year, by god, did it stink! Easy talk here in the higher reaches closer to parks, and the birthing places of these rivers that cut deep across downstream landscapes and lives.

 
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In this place, the enthusiastic call for land continues as a few, and fewer still, brazen hands reach into the air and bid higher. The tempered bid has been lost. Nah, why cool it when you can reach over and chew your neighbour up, sit pretty on top of your hill until a bigger bull comes and pops you off your spot.


And with the scramble to scale up, sloughs and duck nests become too valuable, every acre must be scratched clean of trees, spouts etched down to the clay to let the water fall away, poplar knolls and willow bunches are knocked into angular piles. Because elevators, tractor companies, and chemical companies all come knocking for a greater share. Because no matter the price, there will be someone that will pay. Farmers who will tussle forth another dollar or another thousand dollars, who will let the itch for more land make them leverage every last quarter just to add another chunk to the dirt pile.


Land prices clamour ever upward, tightening tense bidding wars between neighbours versus neighbour versus incoming land corporations. And the resulting land, the alkali, steep, rocky whole, is pressed into producing harvests that can barely service the interest, never mind the principal. This is land that will be paid off in generations, not half lifespans of the seventies or the one-eighth lifespans of the fifties. No, instead it’s canola back to back to back to back. Perfectly redeemable crop rotations in the eyes of the coffee shop crowd is wheat, canola, wheat, canola. The long blue, sea-like June stretches of flax or clouds of buckwheat have been lost. The new story is wringing the land. Making it spit out every last dollar because every last dollar is needed. The land is made to suit the system. There is no way the system will bend now to mark the contours of the land, the sweet hollows offering respite to people and animals alike. A gentle tracing of the land, pencilling out the numbers, becomes hard lines drawn across its ski

 
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And then there is too the story that knows no quit. The one in the midst of all scraping. The wild stretches forth, between what was, is now and tries to see deep into what is to be. That line is strung with wildness, building upon itself, the land never quite done with itself. Geese swinging with the seasons, back and forth. Coyote, mangey or fully clothed, trotting in nonchalant pleasure across a pasture and always willing to bring more pups into the world than we can shoot out. All of them species, right down to the last tiny beetle scratching out its living in the rotten troughs of downed poplar are here, casting their fates upon the minerals and water splayed out, catching the sun and making all of it possible. No matter how we try to push her out for our own business, Mother Nature has a hand and she doesn’t always play fair. She knows what needs to be done and she will do it. Farming is not a game that can be played without her. Wild rules the game, sets the story in place and takes it on twists and turns we don’t want to lean into

 
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It’s been about fifteen years now since I’ve moved to this second home land. Only four hours by car from the flat, open clay where I grew up, where ditches were dug deep to compensate for the gradeless horizon. My sisters led the way up the escarpment, and the moment I turned toward here, I felt a pull as if some magnetic lodestone had settled deep in my belly to guide me up away from the flatlands. I heard myself say, home, and then didn’t have to will myself to stretch roots down.

For me, on our small piece, it’s easy to call it all a twisted mess. The stake I have in it isn’t very high when it all knocks down to dollars and cents and accumulated memories. I’ve only been here in this place for fifteen years. I’ve caught hints of the past but it’s not been my past or my families’ past. But for others here in our community, this whole new norm of business falls heavy on shoulders and consciences. Questions begin to nag; Is it worth the struggle and the stress? Does the game make sense any more when the rules seemingly become scams and bring nothing but an abiding unease that the whole community has changed. There is a sense that business is business and it’s really, honestly, nothing personal, just please, don’t get in the way of me building my bigger and better. And it’s easy to sit here, a ways back, watch what’s happening, not really understanding what’s happening and then proclaim judgements upon it all, the system and the people there working within that system. That’s an easy temptation, isn’t it?

But yet, there’s no understanding if all the hot air you put forth into this world is judgment. That’s no eye to eye, no looking beyond the broad declarations, the statistics, the damage done by systems to our very own personal being. Judgement creates the other. It hungers for the other to just be that, only that. A patsy, a shell, with no ache to be accounted for. The story doesn’t matter if there’s an other. Judgement needs no stories.

Even as judgment turns its back on stories, the land beckons for them. It yearns to be filled with stories of grandparents, tales of hopes and the yarns of big bucks felled, trees sliced off with plow winds, and canola that refuses to germinate after a slow, cold spring. These words that slice off experience to be shared are the path to community. The characters in their places will hold us steady here on the ground, where urban folk and the generations to come can find us, know us and join us.

 
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Andrea HeideLand Stories