Clouds Over Pip’s Pond*
When Ron drops me off at the north farm, I step off the maintained gravel road onto the abandoned part of the fourth line and things begin to fall away. The car gets tiny and disappears.
I can see where the road used to be, the sides cut into the hill in places. There is a track there now, with an apple tree bravely producing tiny apples to the side and there is coyote scat right in the middle of the path. Bees buzz and there is a settling in me as I readjust to being on my own.
I am walking down to Pip’s Pond. The road goes through pine forest, softly needled, and then into open grass. Big hills rise up on both sides and there is just me and the place together. As I walk around a curve I see big, moving, dark shapes up on the road ahead. What are they? I am uneasy then realize that they are wild turkeys, their big bodies on the road in front of me even though they know I am coming. They look at me for a long time and get bigger as I advance. They should be frightened of me but there is safety in numbers and there are at least three of them. At the last minute they get off the grassy road and linger down the embankment before disappearing.
Now I see Pip’s Pond, the ripples of the surface coming and going, the clouds reflecting on the surface. I lay a groundsheet on the horse-taily damp ground and draw. There is an exchange between me and the place I am in and the air is filled with pre-historic dragon flies, their dry wings making an astonishing racket in the sunshine. A chickadee is in a bush over my head, anxiously talking on and on. I draw the hypnotic, moving pattern on the surface of the water and I smell the sun on the mud and green plants at the water’s edge.
Suddenly I hear a crashing in the trees not far to my left. Something is there and it’s something big, breaking big branches. My brain goes into primeval fear. I don’t wonder if it’s a deer, I think of something big, powerful and unafraid. The wild repossession of the countryside has flipped a primordial switch and there is a back bend in my imagination. Instead of a flock of wild turkeys, heavy in the branches, there is something huge, and menacing, a dark shape lurking, a bear, a monster. I am a puny figure in the wilderness, the balance of modern reason is tipped backwards in time to illogical fear. I am the first settlers wondering what might be hiding in the dark forest. There is only me in my sock feet sitting on the ground in the sunshine by the lapping water.
I pull myself back. I stand up and yell to tell whatever it is that I am there, and the crashing stops. Maybe whatever it is is still there but it makes no sound now. It lies down and pulls the leaves over its dark body.
I go back to my drawing. The dragonflies resume. They light on my drawing board, shimmering with blue wings.
Years ago somebody decided to plant Christmas trees here. I imagine it was a despairing decision, since the area was impossibly hilly, gravely and sandy.
There is not much human habitation around here now, but there was a hundred years ago. There is a ruined house that the family calls, “Divine Ruin”, because a woman named Miss Devine lived there. When I was a kid it used to have floors inside and a roof, but every year something else gave up to rot and time and then collapsed, and now there are four walls made of stone waiting to fall down.
As the house fell down, the Christmas trees grew up. Now they are living telephone poles, each reaching up to a sky crossed with crows and turkey buzzards floating in circles above. The wind whishes through the branches high up and only the deer walk on the soft ground covered with a million needles.
I know that before Miss Devine lived here there were other buildings which are gone now. When we dig up the fields nearby, bits if of plates and door knobs come up, and there are holes with vaguely rectangular shapes which are the old foundations of the ghost buildings. Lilacs mark their corners.
The wind has the voices of Miss Devine and these other people who had real lives long ago before me.
Time moves backwards here, the growth of the little Christmas trees remaking the forest where it once was – big, overgrown and wild, full of animals; coyotes at night and chickadees and squirrels in the day.
The grass swishes back to old farm houses and the warm sun on my skin heats the soil of past gardens. Miss Devine bakes an apple pie, and the smell of pine needles mixes with its’ cooling on the window ledge.
* These two works, each consisting of a drawing and text displayed side by side, were shown in 2010 at the Dufferin County Museum and Archives. Mono Township is hilly farm country ninety minutes by car northwest of Toronto.
All Images Are © Hallie Watson
Hallie Watson Artist Bio
Hallie Watson spends her winters in Halifax and her summers in Mono. She began her drawing life at the Banff School of Fine Arts when she was sixteen. She earned a BFA at Mount Allison University and spent a year in the winter painting program in Banff following her graduation. She has work in collections in France, Germany, the U.S. and Canada.