"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china." Charles Dickens

March 27, 2011

"I guess that this must be the place..."

When the world is going to hell in a hand basket, there is always home. I realize that home has changed for me in the past few years as it has changed for each of my immediate family of origin. We are dispersed across the lower-48, and from each other, scattered to the winds of change and our own winter of discontent. The homes we now make are the ones of our choosing with our own families. This is the way that it is and the way that it shall be. There is no returning. So be it, I say. But I can't help but envy what home might represent for others as I rediscover it here for ourselves, in this place we are making from scratch, with some other history, but also our own new sense of rootedness.

Here in Kentucky and throughout much of Appalachia there are many abandoned homeplaces that are still honored and revered, even as they fall into the earth. I have written about this phenomenon several times [as well as here and here and again, here!] at In the Pantry. [And I just found my essay "Homeplaces" on Google books, as it appeared in the 2008 issue of Early Homes. If it doesn't appear, you can scroll down to the end and read it: last page of text before two ads.] I will likely continue to muse about them here on my new blog and in future writings––as the idea of "homeplace" captivates me. Also the sense of belonging, of family who stay near each other on their ridges or in their towns or who come back to each other, to their own terra firma. You can't really replace that feeling of togetherness, of kinfolk. Even when the old homeplaces fall into the ground or get overgrown by vines and the creep of nature, the offspring of those who were raised in these places, their families, usually abide.

For the fortunate, home is a sacred place, for others it might be a hell or completely destroyed in an act of nature or fire or selling off. I realize, while the location of our homeplace has changed in recent years, that it's really about the people you are with or the home that you carry in your heart. I'm not a natural nomad by any stretch but I do know now that home is within us, or in our memories, or in the places where we are able to return. I often dream of various places where I have lived and they are all homeplaces, of sorts: one has even been a museum for more than fifty years and is now the repository of "home" for part of my family. I can revisit them in mind at any time. I can see the rooms as they were. These are just shells and husks of existence, but such important cocoons and feathered nests to who we are and to who we might become.

Here is an excerpt from Home Economics, a book of essays by Wendell Berry. He, too, waxes on about the specific reasons why Amish (and also from our experience, Old Order Mennonite) farms survive on. It is that bonding to the earth and most of all, to family and community, and to the old ways of doing things. His poetry often speaks of home and place and rootedness. As a farmer who writes, how could it not?

A Standing Ground
However just and anxious I have been
I will stop and step back
from the crowd of those who may agree
with what I say, and be apart.
There is no earthly promise of life or peace
but where the roots branch and weave
their patient silent passages in the dark;
uprooted, I have been furious without aim.
I am not bound for any public place,
but for ground of my own
where I have planted vines and orchard trees,
and in the heat of the day climbed up
into the healing shadow of the woods.
Better than any argument is to rise at dawn
and pick dew-wet berries in a cup.
~ Wendell Berry 
Perhaps this is why so many people are returning to the land or wanting to be on a farm: for their romantic leadings as well as the practical. A collective getting back to basics, to each other. I know it was the impulse that drove my grandparents to leave their post-war New Jersey suburbs in 1946 for a farm in New Hampshire, what brought my mother back to that same homeplace from Ohio after her divorce. What led my husband and myself to want to keep that farm in the family, despite our best, and ultimately misunderstood, efforts to do so. It is what ultimately brought us to Kentucky. Perhaps, in the end, this is what was meant to be all along.

And that, my friends, is the end of my sermon for today.

You come back when you're ready!



  1. Amen and amen again... Destiny

  2. I was fortunate in that I came home to the "homeplace", as they are called around here, and although I couldn't save the old house, I built another that looks like it. Ah, home! Isn't it wonderful?

    I love this essay of yours and the pictures.


  3. Beautiful post!

    Cyberland ate my comment.

    It always makes me teary eyed to see ole rundown places! Taking over one myself, I think it makes you more aware of the footsteps and souls who have walked/worked this land before you. And places a great weight on your conscience to be a good stewart to the environment. It doesn't help there is a graveyard on the hill overlooking everything we do. Reminiscent! <3


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