On Halloween day in 1985, I packed up my clothes, a roll up mattress, grabbed one lonely pumpkin from our small garden, locked our rental house door for the last time, climbed in my car and headed north out of Seattle. I don’t recall looking back in the rear view mirror at the skyline after nine years living in the city. My husband had moved to Whatcom County two months before to start his new job. I had stayed behind to wrap up my Group Health practice in the Rainier Valley of Seattle. I was leaving the city for a new rural home and an uncertain professional future.
I knew two things for sure: I was finally several months pregnant after a miscarriage and two years of infertility, so our family was on its way, and we were going to live in our own house, not just a rental, complete with five acres and a barn. A real (sort of) farm. Since no farm can be complete without animals, I stopped at the first pet store I drove past and found two little sister tortoise shell calico kittens peering up at me, just waiting for new adventures in farmland. Their box was packed into the one spot left beside me in my little Mazda. With that simple commitment to raise and nurture those kittens, life seemed very complete.
I will never forget the freedom I felt on that drive north. The highway seemed more open, the fall colors more vibrant, the wind more brisk, our baby happily kicking my belly, the kittens plaintively mewing from their box. There seemed to be so much potential though I had just left behind the greatest job that could be found in any urban setting: the ideal family practice with a delightfully diverse patient population of African Americans, Cambodians, Laotians, Vietnamese, Muslims and Orthodox Jews. I would never know so much variety of background and perspective again and if I could have packed them all with me into the Mazda, I would have.
We started our farm with those kittens dubbed Nutmeg and Oregano, soon adding a dog Tango, then a Haflinger horse Greta, then Toggenburg goats Tamsen and her kids, a few Toulouse geese, Araucana chickens, Fiona the Highland cow, then another Haflinger Hans and another, Tamara. I worked as a fill in locums doctor in four different clinics before our first baby, Nate, was born. Again, new commitments and life felt complete– but not for long, as we soon added another baby, Ben and then another, Lea. Then it really was complete. Or so I thought.
Twenty nine years later our children have long ago grown and gone, off to their own adventures beyond the farm. Our sons each married in the last year, our daughter becoming more independent as she finishes her college career in another year, each child to a different big city spread out in three different time zones from us. A few cats, two corgi dogs, and a hand full of ponies remain at the farm with us. We are now gray and move a bit more slowly, enjoy our naps and the quiet of the nights and weekends. Our second larger farm seems more than we can realistically manage by ourselves in our spare time. My work has evolved from four small jobs to two decades of two part time jobs to one more than full time job that fits me like a well worn sweater 24 hours a day.
My husband is talking retirement in a little over three years. I’m not so sure for myself. I have never not worked and don’t know how I can stop when the need in health care is greater than ever.
The freedom I felt that rainy Halloween day three decades ago, watching Seattle disappear in the rear view mirror, meant I no longer sat captive in freeway rush hour bumper to bumper traffic jams for an hour, but now commute through farm fields, watching eagles fly, and new calves licked by their mamas. I am part of a community in a way I never could manage in the city, stopping to visit with friends at the grocery store, playing piano at church and serving on various community boards. I love how our home sits in the midst of woods and corn fields, with deer strolling through the fields at dawn, coyotes howling at night, Canadian geese and trumpeter swans calling from overhead and salmon more prolific every year in nearby streams. The snowy Cascades greet me in the morning and the sunset over Puget Sound bids me good night.
It all started October 31, 1985 with two orange and black kittens and a pumpkin beside me in a little Mazda and a husband waiting for my homecoming 100 miles north. Now, twenty nine years and three grown children later, I celebrate my Halloween transition anniversary once more. We find ourselves on our own yet again, still pregnant with possibility for our future together.
The mares go down for their evening feed
into the meadow grass.
Two pine trees sway the invisible wind—
some sway, some don’t sway.
The heart of the world lies open, leached and ticking with sunlight
For just a minute or so.
The mares have their heads on the ground,
the trees have their heads on the blue sky.
Two ravens circle and twist.
On the borders of heaven, the river flows clear a bit longer.
~Charles Wright “The Evening is Tranquil, and Dawn is a Thousand Miles Away”
Sitting in windows at night
black cats and their masters
look out on summer; the moon
feeds their yellow visions,
the opened windows cool them…
…One wants nothing to happen
forever, and thinks of those
who perhaps are ready to die,
except that it is summer
and they are putting it off.
~Robley Wilson from “In Summer, Nothing Happens”
Two whistles, one for each,
and familiar sounds draw close in darkness—
cadence of hoof on hardened bottomland,
twinned blowing of air through nostrils curious, flared.
They come deepened and muscular movements
conjured out of sleep: each small noise and scent
heavy with earth, simple beyond communion…
and in the night, their mares’ eyes shine, reflecting stars,
the entire, outer light of the world here.
~Jane Hirschfield from “After Work”
When I pull open the barn doors,
and each evening,
as my grandfathers did
one hundred years ago,
seven rumbling voices
rise in greeting.
We exchange scents,
nuzzle each others’ ears.
I do my chores faithfully
as my grandfathers once did–
draw fresh water
the pungent mess underfoot,
release an armful of summer
from the bale,
reach under heavy manes
to stroke silken necks.
I don’t depend
on our horses’ strength
and willingness to
to carry me to town
or move the logs
or till the soil
as my grandfathers did.
these soft eyed souls,
born on this farm
two long decades ago,
are simply grateful
for my constancy
morning and night
to serve their needs
until the day comes
they need no more.
And I depend on them
to depend on me
to be there
to open the doors;
their low whispering welcome
to the blessings of
living on a farm
ripe with rhythms and seasons,
as if today and tomorrow are
just like one hundred years ago.
Now a red, sleepy sun above the rim
Of twilight stares along the quiet weald,
And the kind, simple country shines revealed
In solitudes of peace, no longer dim.
The old horse lifts his face and thanks the light,
Then stretches down his head to crop the green.
All things that he has loved are in his sight;
The places where his happiness has been
Are in his eyes, his heart, and they are good.
~Siegfried Sassoon from “Break of Day”