In reflecting on Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood after rereading the chapter on Bachman’s Sparrow this week on the heels of hearing one of these rare birds on Global Big Day, I find that I’m perpetually drawn to her words, her style, her sentiments. In Wild Card Quilt, Ray writes
A farm's is a meditative kind of existence. One could live many places happily, but some situate you closer to nature and the intricacies of survival; closer to the seasons and the cycles of moon and sun and stars; closer to the ground, which chambers water and is host to essential ingredients of life. To pay attention to the world, where forests bend according to the wind's direction, rivers bring baskets of granite down from the mountains, and cranes perform their long, evolutionary dances, is a kind of religious practice. To acknowledge the workings of the world is to fasten ourselves in it. To attend to creation - our wild and dear universe - is to gain admission into life. One can live at the bone. This I wished to do. Details define the farm: the arrival and departure of birds, wildflower blooms, habits of animals, ripening of fruit, passing of cold fronts. The more attention we pay to a certain place, the more details we see, and the more attached we become to it. ("A Natural Almanac," Wild Card Quilt)
I’ve often thought we might retire on the island where I grew up. Until I was 40 years old, I lived life at the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. When I married my husband, I moved to middle Georgia and fell in love with the rural setting so charming it’ll give you the tickle-shivers. He considers going to the beach a vacation. I consider the beach home. We’ve had to focus our lens and have some deep discussions about what constitutes a vacation, and all the differences between vacations and traveling and trips.
Beaches these days are too people-y. When you have to plan your grocery shopping at 10 p.m. to get a parking place and be able to move through the aisles and not wait in line six carts deep, it gets old fast. When you work all the time and are too tired to go to the beach and have your first basal cell removed from your nose and are warned to stay slathered with sunscreen just to go check the mailbox, being outdoors below the gnat line means you alternate between insect repellent and sunscreen. And when you have to wait in line to eat in a restaurant for over an hour because there is no “resident pass” to the front of the line, the charm fades because unlike everyone waiting, you’ve worked all day and have to get out of bed early and go do it all again the next day.
Plus, no one knows how to drive. There’s a perpetual crowdedness like being on a packed out elevator, just waiting for it to stop on your floor so you can squeeze between everyone to get out the door before it closes and breathe.
That’s why I think the beach will remain a place for us to visit, but not to live. I’ve gotten too attached to the wildlife here on the farm – the birds, the cows in nearby pastures, the goats and occasional donkeys, the roosters crowing at all hours, and the hens that give us fresh farm eggs – the kind that many people would find surprising to see and smell and taste for the first time after eating those that come in cartons.
I’m not sure how I would feel about moving to a place where I didn’t get the occasional opportunity to see my husband, tractor running, standing off to the side in his wide-brimmed hat and t-shirt, with his jeans unzipped, peeing on a tree as he has done all his life here, as all little boys in the country grow up doing, never outgrow, and find that even into their later years there is no sheer pleasure like drawing a urine face on Loblolly Pine tree bark. Country boys pee like our ancestors did, au naturel and wholly Biblical, before all of this indoor plumbing.
I would miss driving down the long driveway, my camera always on and ready because I never know what will pop out of the next shrub around the corner before I get to the road. Could be a cute bunny, as it was yesterday with its paper-thin membraned ears up – or a mob of deer with their little ones, or a coyote, or a fox, or a fox squirrel, or a raccoon or possum or our resident hawk. You just never know what you’ll see next out here, because every trip to the road holds a story or two, a real adventure, some actually wrinkled with risk.
And the fig tree, the little clearance turkey fig I bought for $3.00 from the scratch-and-dent rack at Home Depot that now towers above the roof line and yields more fresh figs than I could ever use, so I end up calling my fig friends to bring their containers and use the garage ladder to pick all they can take.
Then there’s the bird and butterfly garden that we planted when we first moved in, where our beloved dachchund Roxie is buried and where the Black Swallowtails hang heavy on the fennel each summer before spinning themselves into chrysalises, emerging, and flying off to lay eggs and keep the cycle going. I don’t want any neighbors messing with my baby birds or my caterpillars; they’ve come to enjoy a quiet life of solitude with plenty of wayward fennel to transform them into creatures of flight.
And right now, it’s raining. I knew it before it started because we aren’t covered up in asphalt roads and concrete sidewalks. The earthy scent rises like coffee steam from the ground right before a good rain, announcing that showers or storms are imminent. You don’t even have to be outside; it’ll barge in right through your car vents if you’re on the road. The thunder is absolutely magnificent, too – – it sounds like the end of the world, it’s so loud sometimes. And just as suddenly as it pops up, the trees will stop dancing in the wind and it’ll go away and the sun’ll come out, making you wonder if you actually dreamed up a storm.
I could close my eyes in the summertime and tell you exactly where I am on the driveway – from the wild roses at the entrance to the wild honeysuckle along the edge along the middle, to the jasmine at the garage, and the gardenia at the porch. There are certain smells in the country that naturally take to the breeze and GPS-footprint us exactly where we are standing.
And the Saturday Market. I don’t know where I would get my fresh vegetables if not for the farms here and Gregg’s Peach Orchard, where we not only buy our peaches and watermelons, but where we also go to sit under the silo in the rocking chairs and eat their fresh peach and strawberry swirl ice cream. Sometimes we pick blueberries while we’re there, and we rarely come home without a loaf of peach bread to butter and toast for weekend breakfast in the summertime.
I’m not sure where we’ll retire, but the beach and all the people packed onto islands like sardines in a little peelback-lidded tin can can’t hold a candle to the space and solitude of a farm. Indeed, this is a meditative kind of existence. Once it begins to grow on you, it takes off like Kudzu vines, hugging you tight in a forever kind of way, never turning you loose to think life could be better anywhere else.
Because it doesn’t get any better than farm life in the country.
7:33 p.m, after the storm May 16, 2023, Johnson Funny Farm Westside – I came home from camping this past weekend to find this glorious flower blooming on my back porch. I have no idea how in the world it grew there – I didn’t plant it, so the only guess: a sunflower seed from the bird feeder fell into a planter pot and received Heaven’s touch from my mother.