The Bill Ryan I knew was a dairy farmer. His dairy was on a hill. The paddocks his cows fed upon were all on lower ground than where he milked them. As king of all he surveyed you could expect him to be the ruler of his mob. (He was married to Helen (Ella) and he was Jennie’s uncle.)
It is not unkind to record he did not rule over this land. Instead he was one with it. He accepted the challenges it gave him. A major challenge was the way the ground he bought to farm shrank under his ownership.
Logically it makes no sense. How did his land shrink? The reality was the perversity of the weather. Throughout the 1950s it rained. Rainy months were followed by more rain. In that rain Bill trained his dog to fetch the cows feeding on the abundant grass growing on the productive grassy banks of his property. It was no mistake when he called his land Lovely Banks. The ground was Lovely.
By the time I got to know Bill he had reared his family on that land. The rain that fell in the wet years filled the lake. Lake Corangamite flowed over the flat area at western foot of his land. By the time of my first visit, the lake surface was punctuated by fence posts that once defined the border of his property.
Bill may may have felt aggrieved by the loss of land yet he retained a stoic attitude to the hand he was dealt and he farmed the remaining ground as best he could. His farming, like many agriculturalists of the time, followed a simple routine dictated by the seasons. The busy fertile spring determined the size of the summer harvest. The dry days of autumn were punctuated by the returning wet days of winter.
Twice a day, Bill tended his herd of cows in a life lived without fuss. He made one concession to a macho image. He always had a hand rolled cigarette hanging from his lower lip. As he talked the smoke flipped up a down in fascinating rhythm to his utterances. That fag was a fixture. At some stage of the day the exposed end had been burnt – however all these years later – I don’t think he ever smoked that thing because I never saw it alight.
I remember Bill at this time in my life because he was a born philosopher, and I turn to philosophy to wrest reason where none exists. Like the rest of the family he was a Catholic from birth and a man disinclined to sin in any way the church enumerated, yet I have to say philosophy determined his attitude to life. I have written he was stoic. (The Ancient Greek Stoics accepted the hand they were dealt with – with resilience. They were confident and calm.) Bill never said things that were better left unsaid because kindness was also a feature of stoical lives. Of course his training in the field of philosophy was never formal – it came from the simple way he lived.
Another natural philosophy Bill lived sprang from a saying he frequently voiced. He had a habit of saying, “The faster I go, the behind-er I get.” I could have learned sooner in life many things if I had thought more on this saying. To live life purposely you don’t have to be ambitious. You don’t have to please everyone. You don’t have to do too much. I have found when you study “isms” , and look at the work of philosophers, none gives an infallible road map of how to live your life. Just find something you must do and do it as well as you can.
Better to be like Bill – keep busy but not so busy as to lose a way to make your life meaningful. And ponder on my experience. It seems true enough. When you wondered aimlessly about the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris, and stood beside the grave of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, was it serendipity alone it took to remind you of existentialism?