home fires burning.

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There are some things that I have never written about. I realized it back when I was going through my old posts, trying to make an index by location (which I did: it’s here). I never posted anything other than a few photos from my amazing trip to Oslo to cover World Championships in 2011. I never posted anything about a beautiful trip walking through canyons in southern Utah. There are more. My trip home for the last 2 1/2 weeks was threatening to join that number.

Like all of these experiences, it is partly because it’s almost too much for me to absorb. If I can’t understand it myself, how am I possibly supposed to explain myself in words? Things are too beautiful, or in this case too comforting. There’s a reason that we seldom write about things that are heartbreakingly sad. But it’s just as difficult to write about something that so strongly swings your psyche in the opposite direction.

IMGP2069I have also felt oddly protective of my home. I hesitate to make “Lyme” a tag on a popular blogging network. Some of my favorite moments from my trip home were when I got to show friends – first Min Ya and then Lauren – the things I love about where I live. The mountains, sunny at the bottom even if it’s snowing on top; the farms with their fields of picturesque fall pumpkins; the ponds and lakes lying like jewels in the forest. But part of the reason that Lyme, and especially my corner of Lyme, is such a great place to escape to and relax is that there aren’t so many people. If you’re reading this, I love you and you are invited to Lyme anytime. Let me show you. To everyone else? Stay the hell away!

Like so many places, Lyme is constantly gentrifying. When my grandparents moved there, Ross was the first member of his faculty to move out to the hillbilly land up north of the college. It had been in a long decline since its height in the 1830’s, when the hills were stripped bare of trees and the sheep grazed almost all of the way up the mountains. In 1927, a history professor had called it, in a now-somewhat-famous paper, “The Town That Went Downhill.” My grandfather’s colleagues apparently thought he was crazy. The town had nothing but farmers in it, and was pretty poor. Of course, even Hanover had nothing compared to the wealth we see today.

In the last fifty years, Lyme has changed immensely. There are now more Dartmouth professors than farmers. About a third of residents have a graduate degree. The median income is $85,000.

Do I love where I live? Yes, I’m a grumpy old hypocrite and obviously many of the things that I appreciate wouldn’t have existed in 1950’s Lyme. But I can say that the idea of further gentrification – in fact, even of much existing gentrification – makes me as mad as this jack-o-lantern. Keep your money and stop building ugly new houses on pieces of forest that I love, or knocking down old farmhouses to make them more “liveable” to show off your wealth.

Most of the rest of my favorite moments came just being around the farm, either with my parents or my dog. Our house was built in 1820, and you can tell: when I drove in, first I felt the unimaginably wonderful sensation of “home”. Next, I noticed that the gardens were overgrowing and the paint was peeling off the dormers. Our farm is a sore spot for one of our neighbors, who really would like it if we would clean the place up a bit.

It’s not a shack or anything, but we are busy people. Both of my parents work easily more than 40 hours a week; my mom runs a nonprofit and my dad is a carpenter. Things around here are perfectly fine to live in – my parents have done beautiful updates on the farmhouse’s interior (even if I hate that paint color in my room, mom). I think our house is beautiful, although it would be nice to fix up the dormer! We speculate that the real reason for its disrepair is that my dad wants to knock it off the house entirely.

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When my friends came I scrambled around to clean up a little more, and later, once they were gone, I spent very satisfying mornings cleaning up around the front garden. I pruned things back for winter, cut the grass, pulled out weeds so that the creeping shrubs would stop taking over the lawn. By the time I was done, it looked nice – and we were all happier because of it. But that’s the utilitarian nature of our life on the farm. When someone has some time, they do the gardening. I’m sure the pruning would have gotten done before winter regardless, but now my parents can do something else instead.

IMGP2073We aren’t real farmers. We’re not forced to make our living from our land, and in that sense we are ourselves, the gentrifiers. We have some horses; we had some sheep. We make hay from the big field on top of the hill, with an old friend bringing her tractors and mowers over to this side of town and doing most of the work for us (we pay). Then we do the tough job of putting it up in the hayloft. Depending on the year and how many horses we have, we can sell some. Not recently.

(Luckily, we have the kind of horses that get fat on grass without any extra, expensive input. We actually have to ration their grazing time, or else they become rotund and roly-poly.)

My parents’ jobs are enough that they can’t do much more farming than this, and I’m not sure they’d want to. I’ve been thinking that we should lease out some pasture to some other farmer and let them keep cattle or sheep there. It would be a good way to keep the place up. But I can’t urge my parents to do it, too hard – I don’t live at home. It’s their bailiwick, and they are busy, busy people. Plus, having someone wander all over your land and partially take it over is a weird thing. We’re not Swedish – no open land laws here. We are private New Englanders. Well, okay, my dad is a very friendly southern guy, but he’s lost the accent and who knows what else.

When we are home, we like working on the farm. My mom has a love-hate, mostly love, relationship with her tractor, which she purchased when they encountered “empty-nest syndrome” after I left for college. Any summer weekend I’ll call them up and hear about where she was brushhogging.

But at least as much as that, we love just being outside. Maybe it’s working, or maybe it’s not. My mom used to walk up to a certain spot in the blueberry field (yes, there’s a blueberry field) every day with our dog. She would look out over the hills and into Vermont. The view up there is different every day. The trees lose and grow leaves; the fog and clouds come and go and the hills turn different colors by time of day. Sometimes you can see Pico and Killington. Sometimes, not so much.

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The last day we were home, we put on all of our brightly-colored clothing (it is hunting season) and walked up the hill with Bravo. First we climbed up through the pastures, then along a new trail that my parents put in partly funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which helps landowners take care of their land. The trail is eventually intended to help with forestry, maybe to drag some logs down to the house. For now, it’s nice for walking and will be a killer ski run in the winter. Bravo loves it, as it was just completed a few weeks ago. The animals are still learning whether to go through or around it, so there’s always new things for him to sniff.

We walked up to the hayfield – Bravo’s favorite – and then down through the hardwood forest on the other side to a small brook. It’s one of our favorite spots: the small, dark creek meanders through the woods, so quiet. Upstream of the crossing (nothing formal: trail on one side, trail on the other side, figure out yourself whether to splash across), the water is flat and you can barely tell it’s moving. Then it turns to ripples and rivulets bouncing over the rocks. From time to time, there have been beaver impoundments. On that day, we looked downstream at a tree that had fallen across the creek and the reflection of the water on the underside of the tree rippled magically. We couldn’t figure it out, and didn’t want to.

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Then, up and over the hill. My dad led us bushwhacking through the woods back up to the hayfield. We marveled at hidden ledges and new topography; my mom and I had never been this way.

On the way down, we looked at the old apple trees, vestiges of an earlier farm. One night, my dad collected apples from seven different trees. We don’t take care of the trees, and on the outside the fruit looked mottled and worm-infested. But when he cut them open, the flesh was crisp white and free of any worms and insects. The trees take care of themselves. That was one of the most delicious apple crisps ever.

I love looking around the farm. There are things that are ours, and things that are old. I love them all. Fall is a good time to appreciate everything; in summer there’s too much running around.

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That’s what I could do at home: Bravo and I spent so many mornings out in the yard, or fixing things up. He is getting to be an old dog and in an effort to reinvigorate him (it seems to have worked), I took him for a walk almost every day. Sometimes we would go a bit farther afield, drive the car out to the trailhead and walk out to Trout Pond. But mostly we just went around the farm. There’s plenty of space. As fun as it was for him, it was perfect for me. The quiet, to think about things, to just be outside of the hustle and bustle of a city. To work with my hands in the dirt instead of on a keyboard. To lie in the grass and just dream.

And of course come back and make dinner. And light a fire in the woodstove in the living room, and sit all together and watch the Red Sox win the World Series. Or be really, really mean to each other while playing Parcheesi. But then eat dessert together and let bygones be bygones.

And then I had to go back. Back to Europe, back to work, back to writing papers. Away from home. It was pretty hard to leave. Goodbye farm. Goodbye parents. Goodbye Bravo. Please be there when I get back.

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3 thoughts on “home fires burning.

  1. OK, we might have to go up next summer and help out a little around the farm! maybe help geoff put on a few new dormers. Are you coming back any time next summer?

  2. Nice blog. Swedish skiifan and by the way im` working on golfcourse nearby läby uppsala and maybe you have running by and train there. Keep up the good work.

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