Sitting in the back seat of our 1997 Aerostar mini van, I remember my Mother with windows rolled down, radio blaring, singing every word to the John Denver song “Take me Home, Country Roads.” And her favorite line of course was “mountain mama”. The song in itself was and is pure poetry. In this tune, John seems to capture the heart of what it is like to know a piece of land in this world and long for it deeply. “Almost Heaven” he sings, then pleads those country roads to take him home.
I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Northwest Georgia in a small farming community affectionally named Dirt Town. Just like John Denver sang, “all my memories gathered round” those mountains - the memories of my childhood, my family and the making of a farm.
However, like many young folk that grew up in the country, I left soon after high school to start my college education. There I met my husband, married young, and began my career as a teacher in a big city far from our little farm. When my husband and I were engaged, he was aware of my desire to one day return to the farm but was uncertain he would ever find work in the area. So, the dream faded into the background of my life. Years passed by, babies were born, my responsibilities as an adult grew - but I always felt like a parts of me were displaced - parts of me that just couldn’t flourish or grow without the soil and soul at the end of that country road. Without the work of farming in my life, something was simply missing.
After the passing of my Mother and Grandparents, I moved my family back to the farm in hopes of revitalizing and continuing the farm journey with my own children. In the first year, we set out to fix up my grandparents’ farm house and barn and fill that space with as many animals and vegetables as we could. My goal was to simply breathe life back into the old home place and move towards producing enough food to sustain our family and share with our community. I wanted desperately to recreate an environment where my kids felt at home with that place as much as I did. We painted walls, installed new windows, and planted a garden right in the spot my grandfather kept his. As the farm began to come back to life, I found parts of myself doing the same. The smell of the soil and air held and the very feeling of working the land held more than just the endorphins of being in nature - it held memories, smells of my childhood and family that were now gone from this earth.
Though growing up in an agricultural community, it had been many decades since I had tended to or lived alongside of animals and livestock. As our collection of chickens, goats, horses and cattle grew, so did my confidence and memory of how to care for them. It was like remembering how to ride a bike again. I had muscle memory stored of how to handle and live alongside of animals I had not encountered in years.
I also got to witness a slow transformation happening in my children. I was quickly reminded of the hard lessons farm kids have to learn - the ebbs and flows of life and death visiting the farm frequently and how deeply good farmers feel both the beginnings and the endings. We cried over the birth of a new calf and then shed more tears when she didn’t make it. We felt the injustice of the attack from mother fox when she stole our favorite chicken mid-winter, even though she simply wanted to feed her own littler of pups. I had forgotten how much there was to learn, observe, celebrate, and grieve in nature and the care of it. I had forgotten some parts of myself that had ceased to exist without them.
Many know the journey of returning home is not just a physical place where we find peace on earth but a place that lives within ourselves. Where we choose to be present with ourselves and others. In this journey I have found the longing within me fulfilled not in the traveling of country roads, in paths between places, but instead the paths between my heart and all the creatures, the memories, and the land - the land called home.