#64 – Last ditch effort… ha-ha!

Dry ditch section [Alamy image ref. C2N7TD]

Although the above image of a piece of scraped earth sold twice shortly after I took the shot, I cannot find many inspirational words to describe accurately what it is nor why it was chosen to illustrate a subject equally unknown to me. However, I did see, stop and take it so it must have warranted a second thought.

In reality, this piece of earth didn’t look very interesting as I rushed downhill towards the supermarket at Yzures-sur-Creuse, about 10kms from where I live. It does me good to do a 20kms round trip on my fixed-gear cycle when I want a bunch of bananas. Walking across the road to shop hardly uses a dozen calories… whereas fifty slightly hilly minutes on a fixie burns off around 500 cals.

The downhill stretch into Yzeures is about 1,5kms of frantic leg thrashing (no free-wheeling possible on my bike) during which I weave around any road repairs, shallow grooves created by years of tractor traffic, and cracks from subsidence… the latter probably being the reason a digger had been digging and scraping the earth between road and farmland so that the seasonal winter rains would be able to drain-off properly without flooding the undulating, weaving thoroughfare. However, it was on my much slower, grinding, uphill exertions on my return that I noticed the rich colour and detail in the fresh excavations… so I shopped and took a couple of shots on a part of the curve which slowed the best texture revealed by the sun’s angle to the road.

Basically what I was looking at was a dry ditch… the section adjacent to the field showing bands of rich brown and yellow colours according to the depth and natural dryness and cracking after the long hot summer. By next year the soil will be covered with grass and weeds from natural seeding which will hold everything together and prevent erosion.

This kind of “break” in a field reminds me of a “Ha-ha” – a term in garden design that refers to a trench, one side “of which is concealed from view, designed to allow an unobstructed view from a garden, pleasure-ground, or park, while maintaining a physical barrier in one direction, usually to keep livestock out that are kept on an expansive estate. It also may be used to mean a ditch, one side of which is vertical and faced with stone, the other face sloped and turfed, making the trench, in effect, a retaining wall, sometimes known as a “deer leap”.

The etymology of the term is generally given as being an expression of surprise – “Ha ha” or “Ah! ah!” is exclaimed on encountering such a feature. This is the explanation given in French, where it is traditionally attributed to Louis, le Grand Dauphin, on encountering such features at Meudon, d’Argenville. Walpole surmised that the name was derived from the response of ordinary folk on encountering them and that they were, “…then deemed so astonishing, that the common people called them “Ha Has” to express their surprise at finding a sudden and unperceived check to their walk.

So a rough, hardly attractive feature that was barely worth a second look, actually sold twice after I decided to stop and take a couple of shots on passing it a second time. If I can allow myself a chuckle at my perception it would probably sound like… “ha-ha”.

The image was RM licensed twice by Alamy for reproduction up to 1/4-page in a 5,000 print-run textbooks published in South Africa for 1-year under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

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