BOS 11 24 2021 doublesize
Moving from the farm to the shore of Georgian Bay feels like a complete shift. We went from three hundred acres to a quarter acre. We went from a century home with deep window sills to a modern one with big windows. The yard around the house at the farm had one apple tree and lots of sun for the gardens. Here, it is all shaded. There was lots of work on the farm, but I never raked leaves. Here, I was raking from the middle of October until last week. There I could ski out my back door. Here, I go out back to put the kayak in the water.

Life is a different rhythm here. The work is different. The space feels different. But in an important way, the two are very much the same: life is shaped by the escarpment. The ground is the same.

The back of our farm had hills that led down into the Strathaven valley. There had once been a lime kiln just behind our second farm. There were not the steep cliffs that are the most obvious features of the escarpment, but it was limestone under the earth.

In places, the rock pushed to the surface. Near the front of our property, the limestone lay bare, jutted out like the prow of a boat. Maples and raspberries grew where soil collected in pockets around the rock.

On our second farm, there was a place where bedrock lurked a foot below the surface. Plowing this area for planting, one had to pay attention and raise the depth of the plow. Otherwise, it would hook onto the lip of limestone.

On the home farm, a deep ditch helped to drain the fields. In spring, it was a rushing stream across our land and onto our neighbour's property. But just across the boundary fence row, it disappeared. Cracks in the bedrock beneath the earth allowed the water to seep deep into the ground. Tests once showed that the water eventually made it down to the river in the Strathaven valley rather than seeping into the deep aquafer.  

Similar streams of water run under the road here by the shore. With all the rain we've had, they are full. They rush down the steep cliffs of escarpment that rise a hundred feet back from the road. After a night of rain, as I walked up a path that has been built to get up to the brow, I could see trickles of water appearing from the rock. Puddled water up above was seeping through the cracks in the bedrock to leak out and continue the journey to the bay where it could be seen.

Here there are cliffs. Much of the escarpment's rise is vertical hillside, but there are places where the rock has been cut open. With the paths that have been built, I often walk right beside the sheer cliff. I see the layered structure of the rock. Slabs of rock are piled on top of one another. There are spaces in between, at least out at the edge. I see crevices for insects to shelter in, for moss to cling to. The rock is textured and alive.

Logically, this makes sense. The limestone of the escarpment was formed long ago from the shells of sea creatures hardening over a layer of mud. It built up year after year. What we see when we walk beside an open cliff is the history of the rock.

On the farm, I thought of the limestone as bedrock. The tough rock that limited our farming. Here, I can read its story, see the life of stone. But it also feels as if I have not moved that far: the land beneath my feet is the same.

Cathy Hird lives on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway


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