At Home on the Earth

Fall-Polleny-bee

Honeybee on a hardy mum

I meant to tell you how we spent the sunny fall morning at The Perry Farm. I sat here reading near the window, looking up every now and then at the birds gathering in the holly trees– nuthatches walking up the trunk in their grey tuxedos and white shirts. Black capped chickadees zipping by with the reflexes of ten-year-old boys playing video games. A pair of titmice banging sunflower seeds against a branch. Drab brown house finches wearing red aprons. A blue jay swooping in like a T-rex to scare them all away.

The kitchen countertops are covered with drying herbs, the floor with flat-bottomed baskets of  Roma tomatoes, chili peppers, and apples, the last of the season. An old Morrell Pride pickled pigs feet jar sits on the table, holding a long spray of tangerine nasturtiums, fuchsia zinnias, and chocolate red sunflowers.

Keith calls me into the breezeway because he has seen a large raptor settle into the orchard–  an immature bald eagle stalking something we cannot see. We watch. He sits. After a while, he pushes through the low, gnarled branches, his wings ponderous, almost too heavy to lift him back up into the sky.

I meant to tell you that after my teacup was empty, I went for a walk in the woods. It may be fall, but the warm weather has prompted the spring flowers to return. Honeybees forage on dandelions. Smartweed makes the path bleed pink. Violets sparkle like amethysts. Wild parsnips flower up among the fallen sycamore leaves.

fall-morningglories

Late-blooming morning glories

I meant to tell you that three months of living full time on the farm have proven what I suspected all along, which is that living in the country brings us much more joy than living in town. And I meant to tell you a dozen reasons why.

But when I looked at my list, I realized I wasn’t comparing Mutsus to Mutsus. Our home in town is in a quiet cul de sac bordered on the south by a cornfield. The yard is good sized, but it is shaded by soft maples, oaks, and hickories. Hostas and spring flowers grow well on the west side of the house, but the growing season ends when summer begins. A garden has never been an option. And thanks to the trees, little sunlight makes its way indoors. The yard ends in a ravine, which creates the illusion of a vista. But once the trees lose their leaves, all we see from our redwood gazebo is the neighborhood on the other side. There are woods and a lake and native prairies in the area, but we have to drive to get to them.

And yet, long before we inherited the farm, we were happy in town. Happy to plant geraniums or petunias or begonias in big pots in May and then replant them once they grew spindly from the lack of light. Happy to have grass that didn’t need mowing often. Happy to pack the picnic basket and drive down to the state park to go hiking. Happy to go outside at dark to stand under the one break in the canopy and watch fireworks or, once in a while, see a satellite. Happy to sit on the deck, dodging falling hickory nuts and watching the birds swoop down out of the trees to the feeder. Happy to create those serendipitous memories that make life so precious.

We had our first family sighting of a pileated woodpecker at the house in town one Christmas morning many years ago. It had snowed during the night, and the bird stood on the deck rail eating corn Keith had set the day before. I remember his mother pressing her hand to her mouth to quiet her delight. I remember our daughter managing to stand still for three full minutes, even though it was Christmas day and she hadn’t looked in her stocking yet.

But living on the farm full time has changed us. We crave the light and the space and the variety of flora and fauna that we can see from indoors or be part of every time we step off the porch.

We have friends who live in town and make do with a good camera and a spotting scope, and I have been surprised by, even jealous of, the birds and insects and animals they catalogue from their kitchen window. All it takes is patience and attention, qualities that go with us wherever we are. We have friends who elected to spend their retirement years travelling from one outdoor adventure to the next, from boating up the east coast and down the Mississippi to driving the Alaskan Highway. We have friends who live in the city and grow sweet corn between the sidewalk and the fence. They all are happy people. When I ask them why they love the places they live in, they tell me it’s who they live with, not where they live. But then they admit they couldn’t imagine living without some kind of access to the natural world.

We’re friends because we’re all proprietors of some manner of green space, people who talk about compost and organic pest control and the difference between a downy and a hairy woodpecker. And because we share a reverence for the natural world, a combination of admiration, wonder, and respect.

Fall-Buckeye

Buckeye in the hardy mums

We know there is science behind our reverence. Looking at nature rejuvenates the brain. Living near trees improves health. Walking or working in nature reduces the negative thinking associated with depression. Why? Because humans have a long history of living in close accord with the natural world. Nature is our nature, a reality we can’t hide from even when we wall ourselves up in cities or encase ourselves in technology tombs.

What I meant to tell you was this.

Every evening, I rush home from work to stand in what’s left of the sunshine while the bass flop in the muddy end of the pond and the goldfinches cheep happily from the drooping rows of dying sunflowers. Every time an apple falls from the Braeburn tree or a piece of fluff from a cursed thistle floats past in the sunlight, we feel good.

Happy. Blessed. The way we should feel. The way everyone should have the opportunity to feel.


For a good survey of the science, see the Washington Post on energy and the environment and the American Society of Landscape Architects on the health benefits of nature.

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