It’s great that they’re fixing up the road, thought Stewart. It’s been getting worse since they stopped logging across the western face of Mt. Alba, and over the other side. It’s funny how forty-ton logging trucks don’t cause much damage to forestry roads, but a few rain drops running down them together make them to fall apart. It’s right when people say that water is the strongest force in the world; nothing can resist it. I hope the dark clouds up there won’t cause too much bother; they will add drama to my photos.

That’s a hefty cross-ditch, Stewart thought; a foot deep, and four feet wide – there’s no danger of any cross-flow getting out of that. It’s more that you need at the bottom of the road, but someone’s done a good job. He wondered when they made the cross-ditch, and whose excavator they used.

A hundred metres along, he came to another cross-ditch, also freshly dug, almost two feet deep. Better not to stress the front suspension – cause the truck’s nose to hit the ground – so he crossed it at an angle.

A hundred metres further there was another cross-ditch, which he also crossed sideways. He remembered when he’d first driven up the Syon River Forestry Road in his new Nissan truck, excited about off-roading – except no-one had told him about cross-ditches. He lost traction at the bottom of the first ditch, spinning foolishly, and then remembered that there was a reason why this was called a four-wheel drive truck. Because it had four-wheel drive. It was much easier going after that, till he hit the Mother of All Moats. He misjudged the bottom of the rocky river running through. He’d bashed both his front and rear ends, and damaged the cat-con. It had cost him $2,000 to fix.

There was a set of three cross-ditches all close together. Was there really that much water flowing across this road? It seemed pretty level here and sloping away on both sides. Someone had gotten really carried away. Maybe they were doing piece-work, being paid by the ditch. Was that a worker ahead wearing a purple safety vest? It was an unusual colour for a road worker. He had his thumb out like a hitchhiker. The next set of cross-ditches – deeper than the others – began here, and Stewart didn’t have another two grand to spare, so this was a stroke of luck. “Good job you’re here, buddy!” he called out. “I could do with a second pair of eyes.”

“Second pair of eyes?” said the man, looking confused. He had a strange accent. Stewart had heard the Dalai Lama speak at UBC in a halting, cheerful manner, which sounded pretty close. Could he be Tibetan?

“Yes, can you please help me get through the cross-ditches?”

The man grasped the idea, and guided Stewart mainly from the side, with occasional forays to the front and back. When they’d made it through, Stewart said, “Thanks buddy. Do you need a ride somewhere?”

The man looked confused again, and said, “Yes, up.”

“Ok then, jump in pal.” The man indicated for Stewart to wait, ran into the bush, and returned tapping a long white stick, and grasping a roll of black cable. He threw these items into the truck bed, and jumped into the cab. “Are you surveying the road?” asked Stewart. “It’s nice to see people using old school tools. I thought that everyone used GPS these days, rather than a rod and chain.”

“Rod and chain?” said the man.

“Yes – what you’ve got in the back there. You know, the long pole and cable – yes?” The man didn’t understand. They continued driving to the next set of cross-ditches, where the man indicated to stop. He said an approximation of thank you, took his rod and chain, and disappeared into the bush. That’s helpful, thought Stewart – just when I needed him. Hiring foreign workers was ridiculous; they didn’t have a clue. They must do a good job though; otherwise no one would hire them.

Another worker appeared ahead with his thumb up. “Second pair of eyes!” he called out, and guided Stewart through the cross-ditches. Then he went into the bush, and returned tapping a white stick and carrying a roll of cable. He threw them into the back and said, “Rod and chain.”

This pattern continued right up the road. There were dozens of new cross-ditches –

singles and sets of three or five – each with a Tibetan man standing nearby wanting a ride, who produced a white stick and roll of cable, then disappeared at the next set. Stewart considered abandoning his photography. But that meant not fulfilling his contract with the Village for a monthly photo from the top; and he was almost there anyway.

The sets of ditches got closer together, and eventually were only a few metres apart. What on earth were they doing up here? Were they digging out the road bed to reinforce it somehow? Stewart reached the meadow at the top of the mountain. It looked really different. The grass was all gone and replaced by a pattern of ditches. He stopped his truck and got out to see. He was right in the middle of a labyrinth.

A beam of light and a rush of energy lifted him somewhere. The next thing he knew he was among shifting clouds, bursting with energy. They seemed to be alive, engaging him, and he understood their language. There was a rich, dark cloud, surrounded by smaller white ones. The dark cloud was crackling; sparks flying about it. The white clouds were shrinking. “You fools!” the black cloud crackled. “Incompetents! You had all the research provided to you – Braille, tallies, signage, maps, survey marks, ley lines, and Morse code. But what did you do? You mixed it all up! Your road markings were incomprehensible to the being; your agents mixed up visual impairment aids and land measuring tools; they jumbled their roles too – workmen and hitchhikers are not the same. Now we have him here, totally confused. What do you suggest we do? I don’t want another one of those ‘kidnapped by aliens’ stories getting out.”


2 Responses to “Cross-Ditch”

  1. Curiously not up to par, this one.

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