Rooted in a place

Several weeks ago I finally made the short journey down to see Roger’s place. I’d met Roger this past fall through Ruth Ann and the Cowboy Coffee. It’s funny actually, the first or second time I’d gone into the coffee shop Roger was at the far end with Ruth and Juli and they were dancing and goofing off and it was at that moment that I knew that the coffee shop was going to be my favorite reason to drive into town.

Since then I’ve had some great conversations with Roger and he occasionally mentioned his farm south of town in the foothills of the Ozarks. It was obvious the very first time he told me some of the story of his family and this farm that this was a connection to the land far deeper than the norm. Of course, really, that’s not saying much is it? We live in a time when the norm seems to be constant migration with little to no connection to the land. Family farms and land based living has declined steadily for many decades. The norm today is the suburban subdivision or a place in the city. There are rarely any kind of long term connections formed to these places as they are simply meant for relatively short term occupancy by any one family, often 15 years or less.

Roger and his family have woven a different kind of story which is based on an intimacy with a landscape that is hard to really understand. His family first began living there in the mid 1800s and have been there ever since. Roger grew up there and continues to live in a house he built in the 1980s. The house he grew up in, built around the turn of the last century, is a stone’s throw away and is his son’s home today.

On the day of our trip my time was a bit limited so I got the “short” tour. I think we were there for maybe 1.5 hours and having seen what I saw in that time I know that it was the short tour. One could easily spend a day there. Or a lifetime. This is no ordinary place. As we walked and drove around Roger narrated with fantastic detail the various stories of the generations of his family.

The farm is deep down in a valley and feels protected, cradled by the hills. It stays cooler down here. The soil is pretty rocky too though there are quite a few areas which have been cultivated over the years.

We started with the beautiful white two story turn of the century home that he grew up in and then slowly moved further into the landscape and as we went the stories he told went further back in time. There are three springs on the property which, over the years, served as the family’s primary water source. In fact, the proximity to the springs was a primary reason for the location of the homestead. At one of these I bent down and for the first time in my life cupped my hands to drink the sweet water from a cold, natural spring. It flowed from under a tree into the rocky creek gravel. Fantastic.

From there we worked our way down the creek to the original family house which had been cut into three sections and moved from the original location further back which we also saw towards the end of our tour. This was an old, old house. Roger’s grandfather’s bedroom was left as it was when he died many years ago and given the state of the house and lack of windows seemed surprisingly intact. Roger told me of another spring that had been directed to the house using a pipe and showed me the buried tub that had been used to keep fish after they had been caught and before being eaten. In the cold flowing creek just outside the house a very nice bit of water cress was growing and I enjoyed several bites. I’m going to have to see if I can get some of that growing here because it was very tasty!!

Something else that Roger was sure to point out were the trees. So many wonderful trees were growing here! There was a nice mix of very old and young trees as well and the diversity of species was really fantastic. I’d imagine that it would be very interesting to explore the evolution of the land here in much greater detail. Roger knows trees and he knows the trees growing on the farm with great intimacy. In fact, he seems to know every inch of the land which brings me to the heart of this post. While I was in awe of the beauty of this landscape I think it was Roger’s connection to it that really struck me.

To spend an entire lifetime in one place seems very rare these days. That it is such a beautiful place and one that has served as a home for so many generations of a family only deepens an already profound relationship. I cannot really fathom such intimacy with the land. Those of you that know me or that read this blog you know my current adventure trying to co-create this permaculture homestead. I’ve barely been here a year and I already feel more at home. This is a place I spent many of my childhood summers and so there is that connection too. But my childhood memories and my knowledge of my ancestors includes several states and cities and many different yards and homes. There is no long term base for our family.

From the old family house we passed the remains of an old wagon worked our way down and through various pastures and to the creek where there were many beautiful pawpaws growing. Roger relayed the story of the all-day trip to pick-up the wagon from Farmington which, like another story about his grandfather walking to Mine La Motte (20+ miles each way), really gives perspective to life without the combustion engine. It also serves as a reminder of what the automobile has done to change our relationship to the natural world around us. You don’t see many details, smell any honeysuckle, or hear the song of birds when you travel in an air conditioned bubble at 60 mph.

The creek served as a place to swim, play and get cleaned up and I can’t imagine a better place to spend an afternoon. As we crossed the creek on foot to see the steep hillside opposite of the field I was again reminded of the amazing diversity of species in the area. I think if I were to spend much more time there I would begin getting a sense of the patterns and history of the plants and trees but in such a short time it was too much to take in. On the far side of the field away from the creek was a pine covered hill and small pond, an ideal area for blueberries I’d imagine. It was around this time that we circled back and my tour ended.

I look forward to another trip down there when I have more time to take in the details without feeling so overwhelmed. As I come to the end of this post I can’t help but feel that I’m missing something. I think when you’ve had a glimpse of something like this, something special with a history you also leave with questions. History is a story and an old homestead such as this feels like a window or, more accurately, a door that can be stepped through. Having Roger there to tell the history no doubt deepens the appreciation and understanding even as the stories evoke a sense of the unknown. In a strange way it is also a very direct connection to the ongoing flow of history. Roger is a part of it. We all are.

“Time is an enormous, long river and I am standing in it just as you are standing in it. My elders were the tributaries and everything they thought and every struggle they went through and everything they gave their lives to, every song they created and every poem they laid down flows down to me and if I take the time to ask, and if I take the time to see, take the time to reach out I can build that bridge between my world and theirs, I can reach down into that river and take out what I need to get through this world.”
–Utah Phillips from the song Bridges