The Peg

A Story from the Field Book of a Reluctant Surveyor

   “Peg!” the farmer exclaimed. “It’s up there.” He pointed up the hill.

   The surveyor turned and looked in the direction of the gnarled and shaking hand, then back at the farmer.

   “Is it, you sure?” he added with increasing enthusiasm.

   The farmer had followed the two men, intermittently, all over his property for the last few days. He had tried to understand their seemingly random motions and peculiar actions. But every word of advice uttered by him was greeted with either a disinterested grunt, or a vague, confusing explanation of why he was wrong, after an intense consultation with a wad of paper one of them constantly had in his possession.

   But now he had their attention, the suddenness and intensity of which had taken him by surprise. Not wanting to lose the moment, he continued.

   “Course I’m sure. I can take you right to it. I see it every time I go past on the tractor.”

   The farmer started up the hill and the surveyor and chainman followed closely. As they picked their way between the bracken and clumps of blackberries, the surveyor’s mind wandered.

   Why had he taken this job on, he wondered? He should have passed it on to someone else. At the time it had looked simple, on paper that was. One day in the field, half a day in the office and then money in the bank. But how things had changed. No marks, no fences and country that reminded him of Nepal. Now, many days and sleepless nights later, and what seemed like a thousand nightmarish trips up a winding, rocky excuse for a road, had left him mentally and physically drained, with a car that had more in common with a wrecking yard than a surveying practice. The profits had long gone out of the job. Now it was a race for survival. If only he could find this peg. Now this tired, old farmer was leading him out of the darkness, into the light, out of the wilderness…

   “Here it is,” the farmer stopped abruptly, interrupting the surveyor’s thoughts.

“Where?” the surveyor looked around and saw nothing but blackberries and long grass.

“It’s in here.” The farmer started kicking at the blackberries.

   The surveyor watched for a few moments before joining in. The chainman contributed with a few disinterested kicks.

   “That’s funny,” the farmer said, after a few minutes. “I used to see it all the time. Every time I’d go past on the tractor.”

   The surveyor couldn’t see how it could possibly be funny. Not finding a peg was never funny. “You sure?” he asked, with rising concern.

   “Well I thought I was sure,” replied the farmer.

   “When did you actually last see it?” The surveyor was starting to sense that the moment was not going to be as he had thought, and tried to contain his growing frustration.

   “Well…let me think. It would have to be a good twenty years ago now, I suppose.”

   A wave of hopelessness washed over the surveyor. “Are you sure it was a peg?” he asked desperately, “a white, square peg, with a clout in the top?”

   “A what in the top?”

“A…a nail or something.”

   The farmer looked down at the shape the surveyor was forming with his pointer fingers and thumbs, then back up, slightly confused.

   “Well not really. It was more like a stake. My Father…bushfires…”

   The surveyor wasn’t listening anymore. He had drifted off into his own thoughts. The magic spell was broken. The survey was to remain unsolved. There was to be no peg.

   He turned slowly, and headed back down the hill to the theodolite and what was left of the car. The farmer followed, concerned over what he had said to cause such a sudden loss of interest. The chainman, taking up the rear, tried to decide between “chips” or “a hamburger with the lot” for lunch. He was not concerned unduly, he still had thirty-five minutes to decide.

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