Our original farm was composed of 700 acres. It wasn’t “a” farm, but rather 15 small farms that had been gathered over the years by a land baron, under one umbrella, into a single unit of ownership. Our farm today has many fewer acres but retains remnants of the smaller homesteads, many of which were created during the early history of the United States.
Our deed, for example, goes back to the Revolutionary War. I came here from the Pacific Northwest --a “new” land by comparison to this relatively “ancient” ground. The mountains in Washington State are positively youthful compared to the Appalachians.
All throughout these hills and hollers, there are the artifacts of previous owners’ lives, scattered across the land. Here, we have several “middens” where old china, old bottles, old farm machinery –the historical detritus of the homesteading life—still poke through the leaf litter and invite yet another sort-through by the current owner! Our picnic shelter is built on the hand-cut native stone foundation of the old house which was torn down long before we arrived. The stairs to that home, also native stone and hand cut, are with us, still, intact, but leading nowhere.
But most of the markers of previous occupations here are floral. I, myself, have gathered flower starts from these places on the farm where blooms are the only visible sign of long-ago habitation. There’s the odd house foundation, the remnants of a springhouse, a single gravestone…but mainly it’s the flowers, planted beside a doorway, by some dear lady, who looked forward each spring, to seeing the flowers bloom and spread. The flowers gave comfort and a sense of permanence, stability, to families. The flowers I’ve gathered now give that same sense of permanence to MM and me.
Among these are Irises—the pale lavender blue ones (not the newer hybrids); red climber roses which bloom with such profusion and abandon; Trumpet Vine--an annual orange surprise-- which every year climbs the Bartlett pear tree, itself a lasting legacy of another time when folks planted fruit trees as part of what they wanted in order to make their residence bountiful (which we have done as well). Of course, there are the daffodils, but these are the oh-so-fragrant, double daffies —not the anemic, scents-less variety found in grocery store refrigerators. There is a small flower we call an Eidelweiss, along with Narcissus, Dame’s Rocket, English Ivy, Autumn Joy sedum, Peonies, and, of course, apple trees, peach trees and pear trees that all bloom every year without a trace of a house nearby and--perhaps more to the point--without a trace of nurturing from anyone.
It’s fun when we’re gathering firewood on the farm in the fall to find the tiny apples that cling to a old gnarly tree, kissed by the frost, and sweet as sugar. I know that someone long ago lived not far away from that tree, and looked forward to the bounty it shared with the family, so many years ago.
It is the Iris, though, that I particularly favor. It pops up every-where, every spring resilient, perennial. It’s faded lavender-blue takes the light and makes jewelry of it. Change the angle a bit and the flower becomes a sunrise. How heartening, how restorative, reassuring—especially after a winter such as we have just passed through—to welcome these marks of independence, rebirth and continuity!