The way back proved faster going, if only because we knew that, whatever awaited us, it was not a maximum security horse-pen. With the downhill slope, we soon picked up enough momentum to devour the distance ahead, almost as if jogging. Blue-lichened outcropping and rust-heathered pasture alike parted before our great strides. To the left, the lake had settled to steely grey in the afternoon cloudcover. The wake and churn of the ferry, on its way back to Pooley Bridge, provided the only disturbance on an otherwise glassy surface.
In what seemed no time at all, we had crossed a stream and followed a cut into the lowlands where, perhaps half a mile on, the track came to a head at an iron-bar gate and sign post, detailing various park restrictions. I half-believed that we could not have made better time had we jogged the rest of the way and said as much to G.. From there we moved to a paved road to either side of which stood Pooley Bridge’s few outlying properties: a stretch peppered with farmsteads, one campsite, as well as several smaller residences.
Familiar smells came to me on the end. Though the origin eluded me for a moment, I was shortly able to catalogue them in accordance with memory and put a name on them: the rich, pungent manure of cattle; the grassy musk of horses; the nose-wrinkling chicken coop, softened by straw and grain. Through a wire fence, half-woven, half-barbed, the residents of the latter came to watch my companion and I pass, at which we shared a few words about our respective experiences of animals and the outdoors.
For myself, the sounds and smells of the surrounding farms were well-known, though I had a harder time accepting their place in the landscape. So inconceivable did it seem to me that, amidst the woods and hills, a person could so settle on a life of livestock and farming to the point that this life drove thoughts of all else out. Similarly situated, I could only picture myself leaving that life behind to wander in the windswept highlands. Part of me recognized that thought for mere fancy, the romantic fabrication of a week’s holiday in parts where people were sparse. Yet another saw a grain of truth in that fancy, though the windswept uplands had taken on a shape rather far from what I had imagined. All the same, the truth was in the form of the thing.
Regardless, I was brought back from my reverie by G., who wished to draw my attention to a find dry-stone wall separating field from road. We approached and commented on the level of craftsmanship and attention visible in the way the stones interlocked in a system of weights and counterweights. I had most often read of such walls as illustrations in philosophical fables, of the way in which a single wall could be dismantled and its stones recombined, such that those formerly at the top now formed the groundwork and those from the groundwork the top. While I related something of this to my travel companion, he noted that it was clear from the mossbanks filling out the cracks that these stones had not moved in some time.
Beyond that association, one particular feature most held my attention: the wall’s spine, a line of half-moon stones, of varying thickness, which ran along the top and capped the structure. I asked G. whether he thought them nature or artifice. To this he replied that he was unsure but was vaguely unsettled by their even appearance, the way in which each neatly fit the next and hemmed in and weighed upon the whole. Therein, I thought to see a new parable of society, but one which I neglected to voice, for worry of its crudeness or pessimism.
At an end of words, we returned to the road and, in short time, regained the village. We watched ourselves pass in the reflection of empty windows, severely curtained, and began to speak of the journey’s next leg. The car awaited our return just where we had left it. Once inside, I pulled the binder towards me and watched for cars as we continued our way ever north.