At least once a week, I walk the farm. Correct that. I police the farm. This is a big, out-of-the-way place, after all. Trespassers could be camped in the woods, cooking meth in the ravine, growing weed in the sunny corridor between us and the state line, and we’d never know.
So I scout the perimeter.
What do I find? Nothing dangerous. Nothing wild. Nothing more extraordinary than a volunteer Zephyr squash plant blooming on the edge of the compost pile. Or our nearest neighbor’s new electric fence, put up after the Great Cattle Escape last fall: The herd got loose, a car crashed into it in the fog, and the Deputy Sheriff who responded to the call crashed into the car. At least six Angus died.
I am aware, of course, that we seldom find what we’re looking for when we’re focused on finding it. About a month ago, I was standing in the corn, gauging the impact of the drought, when I noticed an arrowhead in a field I’ve scouted a dozen times before. Last weekend, I stumbled over the Blackberry Keith lost while he was mowing two years ago. We’d looked for it in that very spot at least a hundred times, but only when I was no longer looking for it, did the woods spit it back.
The anthropologist in Robert Hellenga’s The Snakewoman of Little Egypt observes that it is difficult to see anything clearly when we look at it straight on. Only when we look along the thing—at its context and connotations–can we see it for what it really is. I suspect that discovering something by not looking for it results from the same kind of mental shift. Worn out with direct pursuit, we get distracted by the walnut trees, gone gold overnight, their slender leaves glittering to the ground. The next thing we know, our right brain has dismissed the left, and suddenly, we see things we couldn’t find if we were looking for them.
Last week on my walk, I followed a deer path into the northeast woods. I’d never bothered exploring here: Until Keith’s parents bought the farm sixty years ago, it was pasture, which meant that by now it should have been full of gooseberries, rambling roses, and poison ivy. But after a few yards, I came to a clearing of old maple and ash trees, trees that were big enough to create a canopy that blocked the light and thus the brambles. I wandered for a while and then walked south toward the creek bed, assuming that if I held my course, I’d come out near the farm pond. When I finally crested the hill, however, I stepped out into a strange cornfield. Eventually I found a grassy lane. Eventually the lane intersected the road.
Likely owing to the meandering creek, I’d walked to Indiana.
I didn’t know I could still get lost out here. But just when I’d quit looking for the wildness in this place, it found me.
My title comes from The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, and may be familiar to those who’ve watched the movie Sense and Sensibility, since Alan Rickman (Colonel Brandon) reads it to Kate Winslet (Mary Anne):
Nor is the earth the lesser, or loseth ought,
For whatsoever from one place doth fall,
Is with the tide unto another brought:
For there is nothing lost, that may be found, if sought.