I felt the ghost of my childhood come rushing back to me today as I rode my Craftsman lawn tractor out to mow around the pond. The day was already hot, near noontime, and the sky was a sea of pure azure blue unruffled by a single cloud. Sunshine beat down on my arms and face, and small insects – butterflies, bees, grasshoppers, katydids and their like – fled hastily before me and my noisy red machine.
I stopped every now and then to let scoot by before rolling on.
Even though I have many times mowed the path behind the house that runs past the old apple orchard, out toward the open fields, that curves through them and down toward the pond, I was seeing it with new eyes today. Or old ones, really.
All around me the field was alive and growing. Red clover, milkweed, black-eyed Susans and frilly white Queen Anne’s lace swayed in the breeze, heads held high over the green grass. For a moment I didn’t feel like I was who I was, where I was. That, instead, I was home, back where I grew up, moving through the landscape of a life long gone.
It seemed as if I’d been transported back to the Missouri farms of my youth, those of my grandparents and my father. I remembered watching my dad riding his big tractor hour after hour, mowing hay for the herd of black Angus cattle he kept. There were two hundred head, if I remember right. He had chickens too, one lone turkey, and a flock of guineas hens that wandered the pastures and disappeared, after a time, one by one. Dad loved to mow the hay, even though he had a farmhand who could have helped him do it. He loved to be outside, in the air and sun, on the land with the animals.
It was his respite, I think, from the busy, stressful life of owning and running his own business. A life that took it’s fair share of tolls on his, my mother’s, and my own. And so it became a respite for me, as well.
My grandparents mostly had vegetables by the time I came along. I remembered sitting on the front porch and shucking peas with my grandma. Somehow I still recalled the feel of a pea pod in my hand, peeling away it’s string and my thumb slipping in while out popped the peas one after another. I remembered the time a giant, sticky-legged Junebug flew into my mouth on that same porch, and I simultaneously coughed and laughed trying to get it out. And I heard again the loud, raucous chorus of barking made by my grandpa’s kennel full of coonhounds whenever anyone came near.
There was also the distinct memory of falling asleep in a strawberry patch, fingers and face red with juice, under a warm summer sun.
I thought of how, even though I am halfway across the country from Missouri and the home I knew, I have most certainly returned to where I began. To what I knew, to what I loved. To where my happiest memories are from my childhood, from much of my life, really. To what, deep down, I have been drawn toward always, like a solid center of gravity inside my heart.
I believe the things we think we choose for one reason so often hide others that are harder to understand. Meanings and events that arrive from within unrecognized, as almost strangers sometimes, and when we least expect them. Hopefully they become welcome friends.
I have my own farm now, my own fields, my own strawberry patch and peas to shuck. I have chickens and there are bugs around aplenty. I have my own tractor (though a lot smaller) and my own pair of hounds to keep me company (though we don’t hunt raccoons, by far). I thought that my dad and my grandparents would be proud of me, would smile and see that I had come full circle. That I had returned to the world they gave me, and that I was carrying on in my life a love we all had shared.
So on I mowed through the hot day, a few hours spent both here and there, back in Missouri, moving, in a way, through both worlds, the past and the present, the near and the far, forward and back.
Somehow I don’t think I fully understood, until this morning, the how’s and the why’s of the life I chose here in Hartford, the need to be near the land, to feel my place on this earth, to make a home that was so like the ones I once knew. I didn’t see the roots of it all, growing underground beneath my feet, reaching up between my toes to find me at last. But I see them now more clearly, and feel them holding on tightly. And they are welcome.