When we sent our children across the ocean to finish their education, we didn’t consider they might never return.
But as the nest went empty, we changed course. Sold the city apartment, acquired land. We told the children this farmer’s folly was not to be confused with that burdensome genre of family legacy laced with bad drama for future generations. Sell it all when we die if you wish. No ties. Lead your lives, fly we said.
So they did. Of course we delighted in their discoveries and cheered their adventures. Secretly we mourned to see them so rarely. Sometimes we looked around at these 100 acres and wondered what had possessed us to take on such a thing, with only four hands between us.
One evening, a sublime March evening when the orchard in the vineyard was perfumed with apricot, peach and almond blossoms, we were walking with eldest daughter, fresh in from the excitement of New York. She pointed out elements in the vineyard that needed attention and our antennae pricked up. She exclaimed at our surprised expressions – “But didn’t you know? I’m interested!”
And lo and behold, two years later she is working in the wine trade and comes home for an occasional evening or weekend, pulling on her boots and sprinkling our life with her learnings.
Then there was the case of the musician-biologist. After London, Paris and Minnesota, he declared his parents had stumbled into a paradise for body, soul and plants. It could have been my grandfather in 1905 expounding: “If you have good land, you can do anything.” He is now to be found on the lower forty preparing a permaculture exploitation. When boar destroyed one of his installations last week, this gentle, animal loving spirit ferociously lamented the disappearance of the wolf.
But nothing prepared us for the return of the third. Through his years in Detroit and Boston, we did weekly skypes and watched him establish his independence, rise in a competitive corporate culture, become materially satisfied. In time, those weekly conversations began to reveal a contradictory yearning. He resumed the practice of chi gong, one of his frames during adolescence. Perhaps it was that grounding which prompted him to seek a more nurturing place to lay roots. One day he announced he could not imagine living out his life so far from family, and so far from land. After 18 months of detailed planning and budgeting, he and his fiancée waved goodbye to their successful careers and sold or gave away everything they owned but the suitcases they carried when they landed here.
I suspect he is like many today – people laying an ear to the ground and hearing some approaching drum. When I mention the return of our young, I often hear a similar story in return. Questers of all ages giving up prosperous lives to find something simpler and quieter; something rich without being rich. I wonder if the drum they hear is similar to vibrations animals heed before an earthquake or tsunami, sending them mysteriously off to other grounds.
In the brief weeks since their arrival our life has turned upside down. At first light I looked out my window to the weedy spot where I long to plant a medicinal herb and flower garden. Maybe next year I tell myself; I’m already busy preparing the vegetable plot, shoulder ache by shoulder ache. Two hours later I looked again, and there he was, shovel in hand. Flowers will bloom by summer.
Blooms made possible by the greenhouse going up. The team considered costly store-bought options and then set off to the woods to harvest and drag a load of bamboo pillars. Thanks to the bright engineer who recently graced our family, it took two days for John’s design to take life.
New blood. Young muscles. A tripling of chainsaws. Next to our conventional vegetable garden, an alternative model has risen: elevated serpentine mounds for easier tending, filled with earth, aged cow manure, logs to encourage good mushrooms and covered with fresh grass and dry straw. On the other side, potatoes and asparagus have been bedded, plus artichokes from a generous neighbor who has “too many.”
At “golden hour” we’re served home-made ginger ale by our engineer. The crew conjures up the next project. Chickens? Renovate the old stone bread oven? An energy independent clay house? We dream big, for where there were four hands, now there are twelve.
In this ordinary moment, nothing is complicated. I snap a picture. It’s for that day twenty years from now when we’ll look back. A reminder that nothing is permanent; all this too will change. To drink that “golden hour” ginger ale while we can.