Friday, February 23, 2007

A Walk Around the Block: Part Four

Heading east from the driveway for the old Wellen farm, the road gently rises up to a ridge. To the south, the ridge quickly narrows down to a point on the Wellen farm and to the north, the plateau stretched for a mile due north across the Abbey farm. For the next half mile, the Abbey farm runs along the north side of the road.

Up ahead is an old windmill that has sometime ceased turning. As a kid I used to help out in the large family garden a hundred miles to the east of the windmill, then for a few years right underneath the windmill on the east side and then for a few more years right underneath the windmill on the west side. In all those memories, I can always remember the squeaking of the windmill as the vanes turned lazily in the wind. Sometimes when my mom wasn't watching, I would sneak under the apple tree that grew next to it and lay in the tall grasses munching on an apple.

On east of the windmill and the garden plots now oblivious to the passerby, there are the remains of a farm. The large maple trees along the road, a half dozen pines planted here and there and if you poke around a little bit closer, former building foundations can all be seen. The gravel drive is overgrown with grass and you can only tell that gravel exists by the hardness of its feel as you walk over it.

I can still walk around the site as if the buildings were still there. The large two story seven bedroom farmhouse was here, over there was a four stall garage used for storing firewood in three of the stalls and a workshop in the forth stall, behind that was a row of four grain bins, and further back was a large machine shed used for equipment storage, a honey house for extracting honey from comb and a honey storage building for supplies and repairs to the hives. With aid of memory, you can still follow the two track gravel path that led out a hundred yards beyond the main building cluster to a large confinement building that had been raised ten feet in the air and converted into a hay barn that could store 150,000 bales of hay. All this is gone, dust to dust. This is where I lived for over a dozen years of my life, my childhood years, the years that I remember best.

I always feel sad when I am by the old farm site. I used to spend hours playing in the dirt under the shade of the giant silver maple tree with my scale model farm equipment. By the time I had outgrown that, we had moved to the farm my parents live now and I changed to full-scale models. My memories of Ted and Rufus, both of which I have blogged about in the past, mostly come from the old farm. Now all that remain are the memories and chest high grasses growing in a cluster of large silver maple and pine trees.

For several years after we moved, we rented out the large farmhouse and garage for $50 a month, a king's ransom at that time in that area. But old farmhouses require lots of work to maintain and renters rarely feel the need to provide it and it soon fell into disrepair. Four years after we moved, I found myself inside the house salvaging what I could to make way for a crew of Amish who came and salvaged the rest for the lumber. What remained behind was burnt and buried, like many farmhouses before it.

There are two routes back to home from the old farm site, both of which I have traveled thousands of time on foot. Back when we lived on the old farm, all my father's equipment remained at my grandfather's house a mile directly north through the fields, and is now the Abbey home today. So twice a day, to save on fuel, those who were farming would walk that mile through the fields. One route was about a mile and a half long and consisted of a two-track dirt road that wound among the fields between the farms. Years of driving in the same track had compacted the soil and weeds did not grow in the dirt. Even when it rained it remained firm and didn't cling to your shoes. Though with lack of use the grass has eventually claimed it, the shallow depressions and the feel of the firm dirt underneath your shoes can still be detected and followed.

The second route straight through the fields and wooded draws using the eastern boundary fence line as a guide is the route I choose today. Past where the honey house used to stand and across the field that sometimes served as an outhouse when the well ran dry, two large oak trees stand in a waterway. Years ago I build a box kite from scratch and flew it until the line broke from the stain and it landed in the top of the oak tree. Sometimes in the fall when all the leaves are gone, I still think I can see some of the dowel rods caught in a crook way near the top.

Two wooded draws separated by little spits of farm fields also remain to be crossed. As is my habit, I pick up the first stick I can and beat the weeds and grasses in front of me. Almost dying one moonless night when I literally stepped on a sleeping deer that took off from under me and only being saved from certain heart attack by a heart only twelve years out of the womb has a way of doing that to someone with a wild imagination. Now that my heart is a couple decades older and imagination not much tamer, I'm not going to chance another such scare.

Topping the last rise, the family farm comes into sight. Over a dozen various buildings and another dozen storage bins for grain fill up nearly ten acres of land. I know it as well as I do my own hands and even now when I have lived off of it for almost half my life, I can still navigate around it with my eyes closed, except for the kitchen which was remodeled a few years ago and my mother decided to change the location of the silverware drawer and the cabinet with the plates. I still catch myself looking into the cabinet with all the glasses when all I really needed was a plate.

As I walk up to the house Ted races out to greet me wagging his tail a million miles an hour and trying to find a stick, twig, leaf or just something that he can put in his mouth and bring to me. I sit on the swing out in front of the house and spend the final hour of daylight scratching his ears and petting him as the sun sinks below the western horizon between the two groups of grain bins. As the night air begins to chill and the stars come out, the warming glow of lights begin to turn on room by room in the house behind me. Together, child and dog, we open up the door and head inside to see what is for supper and to gather as a family once again.

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