Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Found: A Sense of Place

Strange to think that tonight's midnight ball-drop marks not only the beginning of the twenty-twenties but also the beginning of our tenth year here on Farm Dover, for it was nearly a decade ago that we traded in our suburban lives and careers for a bucolic life in the country. It was a good trade.

Farm Dover, reclaimed from 38 acres of cropped land, has become a true home for us, a place much like many in Wendell Berry's novels where it is hard to mark the difference between his characters' lives and their places. We have worked hard to make our place; and, in return, this place has surely made us.

For every invasive plant we have cut down and every five-gallon bucket of water we have hauled, we have become physically stronger. For every tree seedling we have planted and nurtured, our hope for the future has taken shape. For every leaf, berry and root that we forage, our admiration for nature's gifts soars. Every day – in large and small ways – we shape this place; and in return, this place shapes us.

Another American writer, Wallace Stegner, contends that no spot can be called a place until the things that have happened there are remembered in history, ballads, yarns, legends, or monuments. (He obviously made this argument before the advent of blogs, specifically this one that has documented our life here in this place in more than 700 entries.)

Before we bought this patch of land, we looked for months for a place to settle. Looking back, I don't think it mattered so much where we settled, as much as it mattered that we chose a place around which to focus our lives. I don't believe that Farm Dover is anymore inherently beautiful or meaningful than any other place, except that we have taken it into our hearts: loving every square inch of it, respecting it, and showing gratitude for the ways in which its bounty is received.

Ed and I have attempted to make a mindful life here, gradually unpacking the mysteries of the place. We've learned to flow with the rhythm of the seasons, to welcome the way the light creeps into our bedroom so early in mid-summer and so late on these dark winter mornings, to accept the natural death and rebirth that comes with the passing months, to watch for the stars to pierce the night sky and to be enchanted by the fog as it settles into the low spots in the early mornings.

We've learned that paths are made by walking and that birds sing most sweetly in the early morning, or just before sundown. Butterflies love the warm late afternoon sun, when their wings are dry and flower nectars flow.

We've learned that beekeeping is a tricky business and we've yet to figure it out. We now know that tree seedlings need constant care to thrive and native plants have an instinct for surviving wet springs and hot summer droughts. We know that Ed loves nothing more than tending to his tiny trees or reading in his favorite chair – and that I'm happiest wandering the paths of Farm Dover, foraging for dinner offerings or harvesting vegetables from the garden for our mid-day meal.

And so, as this new decade dawns, I leave you with this second verse of William Stafford's poem East of Broken Top that so captures our life here in this place:

We could go there and live, have a place,
a shoulder of earth, watch days
find their way onward in their serious march
where nothing happens but each one is gone.
Some people build cities and live there;
they hurry and shout. We lie on the earth;
to keep from falling into the stars we reach
as wide as we can and hold onto the grass.

Here's hoping that all good things come to you and yours in 2020. May your journey this shiny new year take you closer to finding your sense of place in this big wide world.