Walking a fence line north of Chip Lake


Yesterday, walking a fence line north of Chip Lake,
I thought I saw my dad standing on a stony rise,
like the one in Saskatchewan
on the west side of the Riverside Farm.
I saw his left hand go up, and in one fluid pass,
remove a green and white Co-op cap, draw
forearm across brow and replace the cap.
Some of his thick black hair escaped and curled up
past a sweat-greyed brim.
Beneath a grease stained bill, even at that distance,
I saw his famous robin’s-egg blue eyes.
He seemed to turn toward me as though to speak to me.
I saw his mouth move and I heard the wind
take away what it was he was moved to say.
Yesterday, when I walked the slopes in that visible heat,
with last year’s stubble breaking beneath my boots,
white cockle and quackgrass bristling on the crests,
I thought I saw our old yellow Chevy half-ton
parked down by the fallen fence behind the yard,
almost lost in the grass.
And then the tailgate was down and we were sitting together at lunch.
Between us was a quart-jar of tea wrapped in a dish towel.
We ate with dirt-creased fingers
making prints in white-bread sandwiches.
While we sat I watched the terns, their sickle wings
reaping the air, making low swoops, plucking grubs
from fresh-turned soil behind the seeder.
Dad looked past them to the horizon.
I think the land frustrated him at times.
He buried himself in it but his love for it was never total.
There was another world in him, hinted at, but not spoken.
How is it that more than forty years later, and my father gone
these twenty, I sit, yet, in a field of silent questions,
waiting for a sprout of answers?

Were you proud of me then?
Did you understand the confusion I couldn’t shake?
Did you forgive my leaving?
I know I was proud of you.
When island pub-talk turned, as it always did, to telling
prairie histories, I liked to list your careers, initiatives,
positions, your life of crop rotations, some successful.
Now I just miss the grace of sitting in that space
between the empty jar of tea and the belch of tractor engine,
the truck radio tuned to CJGX: weather forecast, grain exchange,
farm report, aimed out the window and lost in the fallow.
I remember the year when time got away from you
and the north quarter grew wild past cultivating—
until summer, when it was cut, swathed,
burned and turned under as one does to a mistake.
Your embarrassment was held up in town at the coffee shop.
But I seem to recall some small thing you said,
and a slight smile that following fall,
when the harvest there was better than average.

Come down from the rise. I want to sit on the tailgate
and talk about the way of things. How I learned from you,
to plough under my annual crop of rank mistakes,
pray for timely rains and hope for a good harvest.
Come down from that silent slope,
I want to hear those words that were lost in the wind.


  1. yes, poignant and beyond words… here is to continuing to listen and to hear the lessons from our elders. to being attentive and responsive to their absent presence. to heeding the lessons of the land. thank you, stephen.

  2. You made me ponder on Dovedale House and memories of my father. Beautiful words , with wonderful memories : it brought tears to my eyes, yet in a peaceful and poignant way… Phil

  3. Beautiful and heart-rending Steve. I can feel and smell it. I miss the tea too. Tears welled up… even after 20+years.

  4. Your descriptive prose triggered a memory of a rare soul disclosure by my father. I came to trade off operating the swather at a very busy time and came across my father looking toward the nearby river, engine idling. His three word explanation to me about this interruption in activity was, “It is beautiful.” Thanks you.

  5. Steve, the Creator gifted you with words that touch the soul and elicit laughter and tears. Thank you for today’s gift.

  6. What a powerful metaphor. We need to be responsible enough to plow the field under. Courageous enough to bear the embarrassment (in some instances shame), and humble enough to accept the yield of grace that follows. Thank you, my friend.

  7. I found tears in my eyes too – recalling a time before the half-ton with a tailgate, so we sat in the stubble, or on the fresh dirt… one of my “what ifs” is how life might have turned out had I stayed on the farm. We had a dad, didn’t we! I still can feel his pride. … did you ever notice how, when you finished eating the white-bread sandwiches, the ends of your fingers were clean?

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