Wind speaks through the wire fence. Ghosts of the past creak in the rusty hinges on the barn doors. Long grass rustles and shivers and prickles the skin on my legs. There’s the swing set my boys have all swung on. Precarious, uncemented, it always threatens to fall over when they swing too high, ensuring giggles that float on the wind like bubbles. The skies. The miles of sky. You can see the weather twenty miles away in Spokane from these windows, and closer too, in Reardan, not far from where my mom and dad live. Have lived. How many cloud pictures have we pointed to, lying in the cool grass, shaded by an old, old tree. The tree sways it’s tendril branches, creating the dappled sunshine I can see when I close my eyes. The graceful trees here now provide beauty in an otherwise unbroken landscape. And here the trees once found beauty in purpose.
You can tell where original homesteads were, as you drive along miles of quilted fields of gold, brown, green. There, in the middle of field will stand a lonely copse of trees, no longer needed for shade or protection from gusting winds. Sometimes you catch the sight of a windmill, still standing tall, facing the raw weather that open farmland throws. Both the trees and the windmills usually outlast the farmhouses. If you’re lucky, there will be a house, maybe bent and twisted, barely,defiantly holding onto its foundation. If you’re really lucky, there will stand a house, still filled with vestiges of the occupants past, clues to its story, and the story of those who took shelter in it’s walls.
From it’s perch on a hill, if you wander to the side yard, you can see down two more of the rolling mounds of soil, was such a house; now erased. My mom helped the daughter of the sweet couple, long timers who passed away miles from one another, to clean out the outbuildings and the home. I was invited to come along for a day, and we salvaged what we could, quite in love with the bones of this place that had stood for over a century. The next time I visited, it was gone. The metal fence with it’s latching gate, the house that witnessed history, all buried under the dirt that had held it’s fingerprint for well over a hundred years. That day I was there, I discovered a dozen or so pieces of thick slate scattered around the yard. Now it lays in my yard. I see the slate and it reminds me of people and places who lived in a different time, different hard and different good, and survived.
He had been there his whole life, the farmer. He remembered times from his childhood, when the Spokane Indian and other Washington tribes would walk the well worn path that lay for ages where farms had then cut borders across, into the earth. I imagine how that moment of lives intersecting, paths crossing, affected both peoples who used the land for cross purposes. How did it happen? Did eyes meet as those who journeyed their ancient trail came to this intersection of past and future? Did wary homesteaders eye the First People with curiosity, or fear, or maybe with connection?
This is what this house situated where miles separate neighbors does best. The vast landscape, the changing clouds, the wind-one minute powerful, demanding, the next gentle and barely discernible. The smells of earthy grain and air still fresh, the pulse of thriving life; this is what this place does. It quiets my thoughts, lets my soul take a deep breath, pulls me to walk, and think and listen. I’ve stayed over at my parents home many times with, first one baby boy, then two, and then all three boys, who have grown up seeing beloved Oma and Opa’s house and land with young minds and hearts. I’ve comforted waking babies and listened to the absolute silence of night, the depth of the dark that one encounters miles from cities of lights.
With my parents, my boys have watched and ridden combines and lumbering grain trucks harvest the swaths of land next to their home. They have hosted feasts at a table that has expanded and stretched to fit growing families. Together, we have watched the seasons change, slip one into another, year after year. My parents have lived here, carving their own signature on the old farmhouse, remodeled through the generations, for twenty-two years. My sisters and I have been asking our parents when they would move to “town” for several years. Maybe a few more. Now, it’s time. God’s time, for them to begin a new season of their lives, living less than ten minutes from grandchildren and children. My sisters and I have complained about how far we have had to drive, 45 minutes?! And why did they live “out there” if they came to Spokane every day?! This is what you do when you trade convenience for place. The truth is, it was their decision to make, and we are grateful they have. But today, at the moving sale, was the first time I’ve felt something other than joy and relief-more than a twinge of sadness.
This is the place I brought my soon to be fiance, and then husband, and then each of our boys. City girl that I am, I am finding the more the years make their mark on me, that a bit like Scarlett O’Hara, to me, land is everything. I’m so grateful that my boys know a piece of their heritage, that where we are now is in part because of where we came from. From four generations of wheat farmers tilling and harvesting the unforgiving ground, battling the never agreeable weather. Romanticized? Yes. Truly the work and lives of farming families (my aunt and uncle included) is astounding to me. When you invest in the land, crops, livestock; you trade your time, resources, and choices that the rest of us can’t understand. That my guys, urban as they have been raised, have had a seed of that planted in them is an experience no school could teach.
I will miss this place. We have thousands of pictures that tell the story of our family, the being here, to fill in the spots that our memories misplace. We are a mobile society, and have a freedom to pick up and move whenever, where ever. Maybe that’s why the timelessness of farmland beckons me to linger, to take a longer look. Because it doesn’t take much more than an hour’s shift of the sun across the heavens to turn my thoughts inward, to breath deeply the lessons here. What is it about natural landscapes that take your breath away-every time? It never gets tired, always new.
While I don’t know the hard never-ending work of farming, I do know the hard never-ending work of planting, growing a family. Growing up in this area, close to where my parents live, I always had both sides of my parent’s families within an hour’s drive, giver or take. It’s a privilege I know that not many have. Some of us are born wanderers, never satisfied with where we land, always searching for the next place to make our mark. And others of us are born to stay, keeping, in one place while everything changes around us. I think I’ve had the opportunity to experience and embrace both, to taste the flavor of the unknown; within reach of the love of firm and settled family. There is much community practiced here where my parents live. Small towns are like that; everybody knows everyone, (for counties around). I’ts a bit like a very large family. You may not always like each other, you may argue, but you are always there to stand with those who share your life, day in and day out. It was an unspoken lesson imprinted on me at an early age, and still tugs at me, where ever I am. When I find myself in the midst of a community that is knit together that strongly, I connect quickly and deeply. And when I have been without it, I feel the hole acutely. Part of me is missing without us.
My favorite time of day here has always been on a summer evening, dusk. When the dust devils have settled, the work of the day done, and the sun settles itself on the horizon, bleeding red and pink, ending far from where it started. Kiddos run through dewy grass, stirring up nighttime bugs. Stomachs full, conversations small and laughter frequent and real. These are the moments I see when I think of this home. Maybe the day wasn’t all good. Things that shouldn’t have been were. Expectations were unmet, voices unheard. Work and noise and life stole the day minutes at a time. But sitting on that porch, witnessing the sun tucking into bed, there is a peace about the 24 hours just lived. A knowing that despite the imperfections, and maybe even because of them, that tomorrow you, we, will begin again. That’s how twenty-two years of my parent’s dot on the map feels to me today. Because this all, it’s bigger than me. It’s part of one of the million swirling, interconnecting stories that are as old as the earth, and as strong as a heartbeat.
~To mom and dad~thank you for sharing your home with so much love and hospitality all these years~