Notes From a First Time Front Yard Farmer – Thoughts on the Land

Sometimes you read a book and it changes your life. I remember the first time I read Harry Potter. Rowling invited me into her world, and I happily walked in, and never wanted to come out. During times of sadness, or stress, I would step into Harry’s world for escape, and relief from what was going on, and a bit of wisdom from Dumbledore to help get me through.

By accident, I picked up another such book this summer. My husband, Dave, was looking for an audiobook to listen to, and I was poking around on the library website where I can check them out. I remembered hearing how good Terry Pratchett was, so I checked out the first available book by him, which happened to be I Shall Wear Midnight, the fourth book in the Tiffany Aching series. At first, he grumbled, and then he raved about how good it was, and asked for the rest of the books in the series. Intrigued, I gave it a listen, and realized this series, like Harry Potter, would be with me for the rest of my days.

The way Pratchett constructs the story, and his use of language is simply amazing. But what surprised me was how much I identify with the main character Tiffany Aching, and her connection to the land. I guess it shouldn’t, but for most of my life I have been rootless. We moved around a few times when I was a kid, and everywhere we went, we were new, and the people who lived there had been there for generations. I always felt a bit jealous of the kids whose grandparents lived right next door, or just up the street. Mine were always far away.

One of the things that is stressed in the story is Tiffany, and her family’s, connection to the land. There have always been generations of Achings on the Chalk, and there always be. I look at the patch of land where my house is, and my small front yard farm, and I feel that sense of connection, even though there have not been generations of my family here, and I’m not sure there will be anyone here past me.

For a long time, this area has been a place where people pass through. They come, stay for a while, and move on. The evidence for this is that Dave and I have lived at our end of the street for the longest. We’ve had so many new next door neighbors at this point, that we often know more about the house they just bought than they do. I sometimes wonder if we’re the weird ones for having stayed so long.

Doing farm chores I walk outside, and the wind is in my face. The chickadees are calling for each other. There is an owl I see sometimes, settling on the top of the birch tree furling his wing around himself like a cloak. I see the change of seasons in the way the character of the swamp changes. Green and bursting with birds in the spring and summer, going from green to red and brown in the fall, the quiet desolation that settles on it before the snow buries it in an air of mystery in the winter. I look out there, and think of the people who came before.

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Photo by David Koster One of the many small ponds lying hidden in the swamp.

There was the lady this house had originally been built for. Her daughter had had it built, so she could live next to them, and she would be able to take of her as she grew old. The sunroom in the house was for her, so she could sit in the quiet and bask in the sun coming through the windows. Before that, many years ago, the Athabaskan were here. If you read Shem Pete’s Alaska, they have their own name for Mud Lake across the street. They fished here, picked berries, hunted moose, and probably had a better name for the swamp. I think on them in the morning when I am walking from chicken coop, to duck house, to goose shed. I wonder how the land looked when they were here. Was the swamp a lake at that time, slowly beginning to fill in with brushy black spruce trees and tall grass?

As I go about my business, I wear a deeper path. The grass is worn flat, and in some places all that’s there is bare earth. It’s the route I take every morning, wearing a groove into the land, like the spiral on a record. Like the needle, I walk the groove, and I wonder, how long this path will last after I am gone.

In the Tiffany Aching books, its the land, and her connection to it, that helps her with her magic, and the problems she’s trying to solve. I think it’s one of the aspects of the stories I identify with the most. Before I decided poultry was the thing for me, I was rootless and disconnected. I’d had my fifth miscarriage, and wasn’t recovering well mentally. I sometimes think of that morning. The half hour discussion with my husband about keeping ducks and chickens, the  minimal amount of research I did, and how, in a weird way, it saved me. Getting up in the morning, walking outside, feeling my feet on the earth, hearing the honks, quacks, crowings, of the birds calling for me, has eased the hurt in a way I hadn’t expected. Like Tiffany, I am now connected to something deeper than me. This place makes me feel centered, and whole, taking away my sadness in a way nothing else could.

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