Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Walk on the Farm

I walked on the farm this morning. It is the only home I knew growing up. It remained my father’s home until he died five years ago. Now it belongs to my sister, my two brothers, and me. It is a sort of pilgrimage site for me. It contains layers of memories.

We rent the land to a young farmer who rented it from my father after he retired. That farmer bought and lives on the farm a mile or so to the east where my dad grew up and where my grandparents lived until Grandma died 12 years ago.

I start back the lane, a cornfield on my left and soy beans on my bright, serenaded by red-winged black birds.

I pass by the spot where a big walnut tree used to stand. I remember the purply black stains handling the light yellow-green husks would leave on my hands.

A rabbit hops across the lane a few yards ahead of me.

At the dog leg I turn left then right and continue back the lane, now with a cornfield on my right. On my left is the solid green wall of the Huckleberry Marsh where we used to pick the berries for which it was named. It is also the place where, as a boy, I imagined exploring a prehistoric swamp. And where I hunted frogs. 

I can hear the huu huu grunt of a deer but cannot see him.

I cross under the electric lines and the great steel tower that was built beside the lane when I was a kid. My father had offered to pay to have them go around our farm, but imminent domain won out and so an electric buzz drowns out most natural sounds for a bit.

Passing beyond th Huckleberry Marsh I have a field of corn on my left. As I approach what is now the end of the lane, a kite or falcon skims the top of the corn and flies to the electrical tower behind me.

I stop for a bit where the lane ends. A couple of monarch butterflies dance among a stand of trees on my left. Ahead and to the right is the Muck Field planted in soy beans. Across the muck field, to the right, is Windmill Hill. The windmill is long gone, but I remember it. The lane picks up at the hill and enters the Back Woods.

Straight ahead, at the end of the field, is Christmas Tree Hill. When my dad first bought the farm, he planted some pine trees there. When I was little we went back to this hill to select our Christmas trees. I remember the tree dragging behind the tractor leaving a pine-swept trail in the snow.

Between the hills a bluish mist blankets the soy beans and the tall grass beyond.

At the far left corner of the field I see a doe. After watching her for some time, I notice a buck almost straight ahead at the foot of Christmas Tree Hill near where the Gravel Pit used to be – now a grass-covered scoop in the hill. He must be the one I heard grunting earlier. I head in that direction, walking between the rows of soy beans. I get a little closer to the buck and stop. We stare at each other for a while. Then he bounds up the hill and disappears among the trees. But I can hear him snorting and stamping for a while longer.

Continuing to the scoop that was the gravel pit I walk up the hill. I hear the deep chatter of squirrels and see one in a tree to my left and another in an oak tree to my right. I walk to the base of the oak, notice the entry to a ground hog den at its base, and look up at the loquacious squirrel. He scolds me for a while and then climbs further up the tree. 

I come down the hill and head into the field between Christmas Tree Hill and the Back Woods. The soy beans end where I suppose the field has become too wet to plant. There is nothing but tall grass soaked with dew. I head into it and am soon soaked myself up to my hips. I try to avoid the occasional nettle plant. Despite my caution I begin to feel a familiar sting on the outside of my left calf where I must have brushed a nettle.

At the end of this field I reach the Muskrat Pond. Though it might not be particularly ‘PC’ I have fond memories of trapping the eponymous water rodents to sell to a furrier for spending money when I was a teenager. The pond is full of lilly pads – more than I remember.

There is a scar on the side of my left hand from a barbed wire incident near here. This place has marked me in more ways than one.

I turn right and head into the Back Woods. It is good to get out of the wet grass, but my hiking boots and socks continue to squish as I walk on the brown carpet of last year’s leaves.

Now I am home. These trees were – are – my friends. This was the refuge of a young, day-dreamy introvert.

Here is where extended family and friends would hunt mushrooms each spring. Soaked in brine, rolled in a soda cracker batter and fried in large batches, they tasted simultaneously wild and homey.

Walking on I see a hickory tree that, about twenty feet up the trunk, is split – I suppose by lightning. One half rests on the ground, its leaves still green. The other half is cradled in the branches of neighboring trees.

A little further on there is an old rotting, sawed-off stump. I am filled with memories. My father, who owned a sawmill along with the farm, would occasionally cull lumber-worthy trees from these woods. I am flooded with memories of the sound of whining chainsaws and crashing timber and the smell of sawdust. And the biting cold of frozen steel log chains, numb fingers and toes when the logging happened in winter.

I walk on and come upon an arrow on the ground. It has not been here long. Perhaps last fall’s hunting season? The three-bladed tip is slightly rusted, but still looks deadly. It evidently missed its target. Did that deer live to see another day? I take the arrow with me.

I find the lane and continue to walk through the woods, soaking up the sights and sounds and smells. I come out of the woods at the top of Wind Mill Hill. And there in the middle of the muck field is another doe prancing through the soy beans. She meets up with another and together they gracefully bound away from me across the field, waving their white-flag tails until they disappear into some trees.

Crossing the muck field I head back up the lane, grasshoppers, dragonflies, and little white butterflies dancing in front of my feet now and again as I walk.

Nostalgia and contentment mingle as I make my way back. Much has changed. I have changed. But this place endures. And being here grounds me and nourishes my spirit like nowhere else. In the homogenized, contextless space that is much of our contemporary world where we are reduced to tourists and consumers, I am aware of the gift it is to have such a sense of place. And I am grateful.

7 comments:

Catharine Phillips said...

Thank you, Matt.

aredstatemystic said...

Beautiful. Thanks

Matt Gunter said...

You're welcome Catharine and Andrew. It feels kind of like introducing a good old friend to the world.

John W. Meldrim said...

A few days ago I walked on my farm in the scenic Hocking Hills of SE Ohio. Similar experience of memories, but now clouded by the challenges of property maintenance. Still, a return to the "soil." Glad you got to return. My father taught me a life lesson: "When we get our feet off the soil, we are likely to get lost."

Matt Gunter said...

Yes. We have some maintainance issues as well. I like what you dad taught you.

Laura Stokes-Gray said...

Matt:

Wonderful post. One of my "home" spots is gone now - the campus and chapel of Barat College. A fellow classmate said, "it's OK, Laura, the address is in our hearts."

Good to have a home at St. B.

Matt Gunter said...

Thanks, Laura. It is true that places, like people, leave their mark on our hearts. Still, since we are physical beings, it is good to be present in the places that have marked our hearts if possible.

It is good having you at St. B