Being away and coming home

Traveling is not a big part of our life because the animals need us, and it doesn’t make much sense to pack up 2300 birds and 11 hogs and take everyone on a family vacation. Last month though, my husband I each took short, separate trips, leaving one of us here to run the farm.

Ian and the boys paddled and portaged into the Boundary Waters Canoe area with a troupe of 9 family members. They were couple days into their voyage when a storm  killed two canoers in the BWCA and wiped out power to the northland. I threw my anxiety into the work of hauling buckets. As it turned out, the storm hit their area but not with the same fury that it brought to other places. They heard no news during their trip and thought it was a run-of-the-mill thunderstorm that wasn’t worth mentioning.

As soon my husband he came back, a friend picked up me and my older son and we drove to Iowa for a Quaker gathering.

“What would be happening on the farm right now?” my friend asked when we stopped for lunch in northern Iowa. I was delighted by her question and noticed that part of me felt we should really do our mid-day egg gathering soon, and that we had only about three hours before we should start on evening chores.

The rhythm of our land and our animals was still inside me. This is what I have hoped for since I was a child.

I have pictured the land living inside people since I was a kid. When I was about 10, my mom visited an aunt who was in a nursing home in northwestern Minnesota. My mom loved her auntie Selma so much and told stories about her with such affection that I saw this aunt as larger than life.

Auntie Selma was confused when mom visited her, and she was worried that the machinery had gotten rusty. It wasn’t clear to my mom what machinery was so concerning, but she went with the flow of conversation.

“Yah,” my mom agreed. “But you know, we’ve had so much rain.”

“Jesss!” Auntie Selma brightened, her Swedish accent turning the word “yes” into an exclamation that had a real punch to it. “We’ve had so much rain!” It was like the puzzle had been solved, and our aunt could relax a bit.

Later, our aunt looked out the window at the parking lot and remarked that she could see her dear husband Charlie (pronounced as “Sharlie”) heading out to the barn to milk the cows.

I do not want to trivialize the suffering of people with dementia. As an adult, I understand better how heartbreaking that condition can be. As a child though, it struck me that Auntie Selma had been given a gift. No matter where she was, she held an intimacy with rain. No matter what surrounded her, she was part of the ancient rhythm of milking, and her beloved husband joined her in it even after he had left this world. I couldn’t put words around it at the time, but I admired that gift. I wanted it for myself.

My trip to Iowa was just amazing, but the first morning after I returned home, I got up to check on the chickens shortly after dawn. As I rounded the western edge of our shelter belt, I was almost floored by the sensation that I was suddenly back in my own skin. As happy as I was to be away, part of me had stayed here, waiting for me to return and step back into the rhythm of this little piece of land.

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