by Graham Cotter
The Sands of Time
George was lean, and seemed to point in two directions at the same time: upwards as he sat – almost seemed to stand – straight up on his high tractor seat, his neck straight, and his nose and the brim of his hat finely parallel, both pointing to some unseen goal.
Not three hundred yards from these scenes of open and undercover warfare, Brian, the other member of the Scace family, was engaged in solemn chat with a farmer friend. About the time that the fight began in the children’s bedroom, Brian had been playing part way down the open slope by the barn. He had fierce stiff red hair like his sister Linda and big freckles on his exposed skin. His nose was not impressive, and his blue eyes sheltered behind large glasses, which looked as though they had been purchased a size too big so he would not grow out of them. His mouth was generally open, showing large front teeth: the reason for this was not stupidity, but because he breathed more easily through his mouth having not only all the various misplaced and extra things that make breathing through the nose more difficult, but also being inclined to asthma, hay fever, and whatever variations on head and chest colds that could make a small boy uncomfortable.
Brian was not at all stupid. His asthma kept him less active than the others and he was inclined to be solitary. Where his sisters were interested in dolls and domestic life, and Kevin in games and war and opportunities for destruction, Brian liked the earth and the seasons and the great variety of plants. He wanted to know why everything was the way it was. He was very alert to sounds and small movements close or far, and that is how it happened that as he played near the barn he first heard, and then saw George Wiseman bowling along on his large tractor. The noise was quite different from that of the other earth mover which was to attract Kevin’s attention a few minutes later, and around the corner of the hill. The tractor was passing quickly along the county road a mile away, making a steady hum, like some enormous single minded hornet, flying along a grove of destiny to its paperwork comb.
Brian had no difficulty recognizing George Wiseman, even at that distance. George was lean, and seemed to point in two directions at the same time: upwards as he sat – almost seemed to stand – straight up on his high tractor seat, his neck straight, and his nose and the brim of his hat finely parallel, both pointing to some unseen goal hundreds of yards ahead on the road and perhaps five hundred feet above it. Brian loved just to watch George’s progress on his tractor, wondering what flights of crows or hawks, or even UFO’s, might be the focus of his beaklike head.
This time, however, George’s trance-like movement, or Brian’s trance-like following of it, came to a sudden end, as the tractor slowed down, and George was seen to turn his head and then the steering wheel, and move more slowly along the concession road. This was the same road which became merely a road allowance at the foot of Scace’s Hill, but down there a few hundred yards closer to the county road were strange sand dunes, and it was towards these that George was evidently headed. Brian sensing that George must be up to some new ritual in the mystery of country life set out to intercept him.
To do this, he did not take the route around the hill and through the bushes which his brother was to take just a few minutes later. It was much simpler to go straight over the fields towards the sand. These fields had been kept grazed by cows, and were separated from each other by great ten foot lines of stone, dragged from the furrows by the time and effort of those who had cleared the land. Beyond two fields there was a small line of trees, which connected with the wooded line of brush which accompanied the road allowance on its rush down the hill. But this little line of trees was, unlike the rest, mostly cedar; some thirty feet tall but mostly fifteen, and with many little cedars sprouting up all along the edges. To make most speed toward where George and his tractor seemed to be going, Brian pushed his way through the grove.
Brian very nearly didn’t come out the other side. Wherever he went into a little or large clump of trees, he wanted to stay as long as he could. It was like being in a different world. In this place the cedar leaf flooring, and the sparse undergrowth, just a few ferns and wild flower plants, and the dry twigs feebly barring his way, held him fascinated. The cedar scent soothed his usually choky airways, and he looked up to where the spires of the larger trees moved on up, rank on rank of smaller growing branches making a Jacob’s ladder to the blue hot alien sky outside. But he could still hear the sound of George’s tractor and he reluctantly hurried on.
There was now just a short space to cross before the sand mounds began, and he could see the farmer and his tractor not far ahead. He could also see that the tractor was pulling a low red cart, much like a manure spreader.
“Hi, Mr. Wiseman,” called out Brian, running now, “whatcha doin’ down here in the sand?”
“Fellow might ask the same question of you, Brian. I could see you comin’ from clear up at the barn, or I’d ask what you were doing trespassing in Letcherly’s sand heap. Leastways, it might be called trespassing, if Letcherley cared a hoot. Come to think of it, I’m trespassing myself, if it comes’ to that.”
“Come to get some sand, Mr. Wiseman?”
“Well, that’s about it. I just took a load of manure down to widow Dingwell for to dig into her roses, not that I’ll be doing that, I figure she’ll have that young cousin who lives there dig it in, he’s not much use for nothing else. As a matter of fact, I was going to call in and look at some cows over to Drinkwater’s but I guess he’s got them somewhere else, not a cow in sight, though there’s must be more than two score – no more like fifty – sheep in the next field. So I reckoned I had a little extra time on my hands and I’d pick up a bit of sand for young Russell’s play box. Mind, I can use it for more than that because I have to mix some cement for the barn stall. Been cracking in the north corner for past five years – time I did something about it.”
Brian managed to get in another question: “How come there’s all this sand here, Mr. Wiseman?”
“I’ve often wondered that myself when I was a young fellow like you. Now I may be wrong about this, but I have heard tell when my sister Rita’s cousin was visiting last Christmas, or was it the Christmas before last, that her boyfriend – at least, he was her boyfriend then – he’s her husband now – was studying up this kind of thing – soils, and hills and rocks – I don’t know how much use that study is but he gets well paid for it anyways. I heard tell that there was some kind of lake here once, and this was the shore.”
“It could be, ’cause the sand really goes all the way round the foot of the hill. This is a steeper hill than most around here, so maybe it rose right outa the lake.”
“Come to think of it you’re right. But the sand goes right along the valley to the west and slopes to the north.”
“Funny to think of Percy village under water and fishes swimming around through Bailey’s garage and Perchard’s supermarket.” Brian liked to bring history right up to the present time.
“Did you ever notice now many of our hills are long and low and they hump a bit on one end, Brian?”
’Yes, they’re just like a big fish, Mr. Wiseman. Do you suppose they’re big fish that turned to dirt?”
“No, I don’t. But I’ve heard tell maybe the Indians thought they were. Anyway, the old name for them was ‘whaleback’, and they certainly do resemble a whaleback. Leastwise, what I suppose a whale’s back looks like, seeing as I’ve never got to see a whale closer than the library.”
“Didn’t you ever see those jumping whales on TV?”
“Well, I suppose I just might. Don’t watch TV that much. Mostly whatever young Russell has on if I’m home during the day, or some of my wife’s programs. Could watch an awful lot of that stuff and not be much further ahead.”
“I like to think that our house is up there on a whale’s back. We might get carried way out to sea, and never come back again.”
“Well, would you like to give a hand with this sand? There’s a shovel about your size in the cart.”
“Ok, Mr. Wiseman, I’m glad to help. It’s such lovely white sand. You wonder it could be here so far from Lake Ontario.”
“It’s not Lake Ontario sand. Lake Ontario sand is none too white hereabouts anyway. Maybe when you finish school you’ll be like that fellow who studied it all up and you came tell us why it’s so and get paid a lot by the government for knowing so much.”
“I think that would be fun, but not if I have to spend most of the time in the city to find out. Most people who get lots of money for knowing stuff seem to live in the city.”