Monday Excerpts

October 29, 2018

The piece of framed art catches my eye and I can’t avert my gaze.

 Usually, it’s a realistic piece depicting some rural scene, often with an old farmhouse, a barn, or a combination of both structures.  The artwork to which I am attracted most often is not high on the list of priorities to other attendees at an auction.  Rarely do I focus  on a piece that is extremely valuable.   I often end up paying a dollar or two for nice, framed art at auctions.  (I admit that I buy more than I can justify.)  My latest piece is a print of a water color painting by Steve Zazenski depicting an old, white farmhouse and barn, with fenced pasture in the foreground, and a gravel driveway between the two pastures, and everything lightly dusted in snow.  The scene evokes feelings of peace and contentment each time I look at it. 

When I was a child, we didn’t have much in the way of art (or even family pictures) on the wall.  I remember gazing at pictures in books the way I look at framed art today, studying the details and thinking about the structures that housed the people and animals about which I was reading.  My fascination didn’t end with the pictures, for as our family would travel down the road, I would look out the vehicle windows and wonder about the families that lived inside the homes we passed.  At night, when the light shined outward from the houses, sometimes I would catch a glimpse of a person in the window and I would imagine what their life was like. Was there happiness within the walls of those homes, or were the families filled with discontent and anguish?  Those were some pretty deep thoughts for a child.  Even as an adult, I catch myself gazing at homes and wondering about those who live therein. 

 As an adult, I am particularly drawn to houses and barns that have been abandoned and are deteriorating.  I often stare at them and wonder about the families that once lived within those dwellings and how the buildings came to be neglected. I sometimes feel if I could possibly just walk through them, that perhaps the spirit of those who once lived there might be able to stir my soul and speak their stories to me.   I had this feeling of connection the first time I stepped into the old barn here on our property.  The barn, full of trash, debris, and fifty-year-old hay decomposing in the loft, needed a lot of work.   However, I could feel that there was life left in that old structure, and though it had sat many years abandoned, I knew there were more stories left to be told.  Each time I walk through the door of the barn, I feel a sense of peace as I look at the stalls to the left, and the stanchions on the right.  Overhead, the loft is now full of fresh, square bales of hay that will feed our cows this winter.  When I step down into the parlor area if I look closely, I can see paw prints in the concrete, a testament to a dog that followed closely behind his master perhaps some fifty or sixty years ago.  I have seen those same paw prints in the concrete steps that lead up to our house.  Also, in the parlor floor of the barn, I can see the shape of a cow’s hoof.  It doesn’t seem to be imprinted into the concrete itself, but perhaps a mark left by a cow that stepped in some sort of stain and the walked across the floor, it is faint with age.  The image left there connects the present to the past and makes me think about the history of this barn that is ours for a time. 

Just like the old barn on our property, our cottage style farmhouse, built in 1930, evokes feelings for me of connectedness to the past.  I know for a fact, very little about the family that once lived in this home before it was abandoned for many years.  What we do know from evidence left and by the stories that we have heard from neighbors who are old enough to recall the history of this place, is that this was once home to an industrious woman whose cellar shelves were lined with home canned goodness from her garden.  As I stand in the kitchen, sometimes I think about this woman.  What were her goals, her dreams, her passions?  Did she take pride in the cattle that were milked in the barn, the garden that was raised, and the food that was preserved?  Did the years leave her feeling fulfilled and happy? 

Now, finally after all these years, I am home and I feel it deep within my soul.  I walk back from locking the chickens in from the night as the darkness descends into this mountain holler and I am gazing in the windows of my own house where the light is spilling out.  I know exactly what lies behind those walls built by others but now inhabited by a couple who believes in holding on to what is good for as long as we can, even when it sometimes seems a struggle.  Here in this place and time,  we have the opportunity to feel connected to the earth, the animals that we keep, and in some strange way the history of people we never knew.  

Therein lies my fascination with the art depicting old farm houses and barns.  It’s not the structures themselves but what those structures represent, that being a people who were connected to the earth in the same manner that I feel connected.  It’s only when I am doing all of the little things that make up this life of homesteading and farming that I feel I am doing what makes sense for me.  I have always known it and always worked toward this moment.  I sometimes wonder how long I will be allowed to enjoy this life that I love and I hope for many, many more years but I take comfort in the fact that I have been able to live my dream, no matter how long or short it may be. 

November 4, 2018

Sometimes I have nightmares.  Those dreams are of someone I love being torn from my life as I stand helpless and unable to prevent the loss.  All of us know the feeling of having someone we hold dear taken from us far too soon.  Some of us have lived almost all of our life knowing that feeling.  

One morning I went to school like any normal seven-year-old and when I came home that evening, my mother was gone.  My brother, only three and a half, remembers all to well the moment of loss as he was there when our mother had the accident on her beloved horse that took her life.  I have known my share of pain and loss, but somehow, I have always been able to find that indomitable spirit and I think that knowing from an early age just how fragile life can be has made me more aware of how precious time is as well.  We are not promised tomorrow.  We are not even promised the rest of today.  Sure, I lose sight of that truth and when I do, I don’t value the moment or my reactions to life’s difficulties don’t reflect the bigger picture, but I always try to bring myself back around and be thankful for all the blessings that are mine.  I have had examples of people close to me who suffered great losses only to embrace life and live it fully as well as others in my immediate circle of family whose grief took from them all of the goodness left in life as they suffered in bitterness over their loss.  Both of these examples in my life taught me that living life fully and completely engaged is the only way to honor the memory of those whose lives were cut short. 

There was a time when I traveled to Guatemala, taking with me the gifts of friends, family and even strangers and offering those gifts to people who had not even the basic necessities of life to survive.  In memory of my son, the gifts of others dug a well and provided life giving water for a village, provided goats for milk for grandparents who were raising their grandchildren, and provided pork for several other families.  Being able to be a part of something so life changing for those people and doing it in memory of my son was exactly the type of project I needed at the time to help me get through that stage of my grief. 

My grief is more settled now, a part of me that is just always there.  I seek out quieter ways to live life fully, in part because introversion is my nature and partly because in recent years stress just takes a major toll on my body.  Just as important as being a part of something as big as providing water for a village is offering a smile to my neighbor.   A gentle touch to someone who is hurting can be as life giving as offering someone who is hungry a meal. 

November 5, 2018

Even as a young child, the idea of living in seclusion appealed to me.  I can remember reading Heidi while still in elementary school, and understanding just why Grandfather would want to live far away from the people and events that brought him pain.  On the other hand, I inwardly cheered when Heidi won him over and when Grandfather allowed a little girl’s love of life to soften his hardened heart.  There is a part of me that could just hide away from the world and all of its pain, but I know that’s not living.  That is just existence.  Still, I am a sensitive soul that finds my solace in nature.  I would find it hard to survive without my periods of seclusion. 

Mike and I took the Kubota ATV up to the back forty to check on the cows last night.  The peace that enters my soul when I am sitting on top of our property is difficult to describe.  The trees surrounding our property really aren’t brilliant this year.  They were soaked and battered by storms that hit our area in weeks past.  Many of the leaves fell to the ground before they even changed colors.  Yet, there is still color and there is something magical about the changing of the seasons.  From this vantage point we can see for miles and miles.  My eyes always seek out Buffalo Mountain rising above all the other peaks.  The cattle grazing in peace, lift their heads at the interruption our presence makes.  Some of them continue grazing while others come close enough to be scratched on the head or stroked down their sides.  This is my happy place, my place of seclusion, and the place that brings peace to my soul.  I am thankful for it and I do not take it for granted. 

As much as I value my peace and a measure of seclusion, I realize that we humans are not made to live a world apart.  Each time life brings a measure of hurt and I feel the sentiments of Grandfather in the children’s book Heidi, figuratively wanting to run away to the mountains to protect myself from anger, from misunderstanding, and from evil in general, I am reminded of a quote by William Paul Young, and a truth I have experienced for myself:

“I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships so will our healing, and I know that grace rarely makes sense for those looking in from the outside.”
Wm. Paul Young, The Shack

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