Monday 1 March 2021

L'esprit du sentier

I've had occasion to mention L'esprit d'escalier - the wit of the stairs: all the clever things you could have said as you walk downstairs after the interview. I've also learned to be more circumspect in how I address people. Engage brain before opening mouth as my father used to say. For example, when we first bought our farrrm in the Summer of '96, I was often to be found leaning on the gate not working at making the place presentable. I used to pass the time of day with folks who'd walk up the lane. Back then, it was mostly neighbours and locals, taking the air of an evening as a pretext for scoping out the blow-ins. My standard gambit was often "Are you going far?". Word filtered back that I should be more careful because this question had been heard as Where do you think you are going? As if I was questioning their right to walk up the lane as their fathers and foremothers had done since the foundation of the state.

That was in hindsight a rather willful, somewhat racist, misunderstanding of my words and intentions. Since the turn of the 21stC, fewer and fewer local people walk anywhere, let alone up the 1-in-10 slope of the lane, so the people I meet are generally hill-walkers and ramblers from further afield. I still use Are you going far? because it's neutral but slightly more loaded / interesting than "Nice day". Those who fancy a chat, stand and deliver; those who don't, walk on past. Lips are more pursey, and steps more furtive during the lockdown perhaps because hardly any of these walkers live within 5km of the place they parked their car, let alone 2-3km further up the hill. Rules is Rules but outdoor exercise with or without mask sure beats damaging your mental health locked up with your housemates.

Saturday, like Friday and Sunday, was a brilliant sunny Spring day with a hint of breeze to prevent over-heating. Who wouldn't want to walk up our hill to watch the crows a-courting and boost the old vitamin-D? As I crossed the lane to count the sheep's legs [if it's not a multiple of 4, there's something wrong] I saw a party of small people ploughing up hill. As they drew abreast of our gate, I greeted them and, close-up, noticed that as well as three adult women and 4 sub-teen children, they had a dog with them.

Self: That dog should be on a leash
Woman: "That dog" is 16 years old, and lives on a farm
Stunned: You can see where I'm coming from?
Woman:  You can see where I'm coming from!
and turned her back on me with a toss of her head, carrying on up my lane.

 What's with my insistence about dogs on leads? On a city street, perhaps; but on a beach? or out in the country? Where else can Bonzo be free to run? Well nowhere near [our] sheep, for starters. This was explained to me by a fellow sheep farmer 2 years ago. Michael lives on the other side of the mountain up another lane, which also serves as an access route for hill-walkers. He is getting cumulatively aggravated by walkers with dogs, and gets short and sharp if he sees them on his property - including the hillside - without a leash. But he added that, while dogs chasing sheep is obviously a wrong-doing, the smell of strange dogs and the yapping, yipping, barking and greeting of strange dogs gives sheep a frisson of terror - adrenalin, cortisol, elevated BP [that wd be vasopressin], maybe oxytocin - which does their condition no good. And acknowledging that sheep are not all of the brightest, such sounds and smells even from invisible dogs can send the whole flock of them off on a run which can result in broken limbs and other material damage. It is, for example, lambing [oxytocin] season. It's a problem in Kerry [and everywhere] with a suggestion that pandemicitis is driving all sorts of [nice but] ignorant people with their wholly untrained dogs out onto the hills. The rules in Kerry [and everywhere] are "He pointed out that dogs, whether on leads or not, are NEVER allowed on the walks but now, more than ever, given the stress dogs can have on farm animals, people must obey this rule."

After two, partly sleepless, nights my considered L'esprit du sentier response to Mrs Flounce and her old farm dog wavers between:

Self: No I don't know where you're coming from, but if you give me your address I'll visit you and have my sheep graze your lawn.
Self: Well have a nice walk; I hope you find your manners up there.

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