I was out to the farm early this morning. Willie and I walked the dogs on the trail through the woods, checked the new plants in the hops field, and started to cover the blueberry bushes with netting.
The farm is 40 acres in northern Wisconsin – an area of rolling forest dotted with thousands of lakes. The property was first settled around the beginning of the 20th century. We were not looking to buy a farm, simply land as an investment. “Just take a look,” the realtor said. When we did, the spirit of the place crept under our skin and began to grow.
The property had not been farmed for over 50 years. The last owner had used it as an occasional hunting lodge, with maintenance minimal at best. The farmhouse was a quaint, rotting, little box smelling of mold and mildew, with no plumbing, a wood stove for cooking, an oil-burning heater for warmth, and enough electricity to light a couple of bulbs. The barn was sagging and filled to overflowing with the precious, worthless treasures of all the past owners. Former fields were recognizable only because the trees in those areas were not as tall as the rest of the woods, although just as dense.
The farm’s spirit infected Willie first, taking deep hold of his heart. He had a vision of what could be. I didn’t see it, but believed in him. Five years later we have emptied and renovated the barn, rebuilt the farmhouse from the ground up (this time with modern amenities), constructed a new lodge and numerous outbuildings. Trails wide enough for a pickup truck run throughout the property – perfect for walking in the summer and snowshoeing in the winter. We have an orchard with 140 apple trees, a few cherry trees and blueberry bushes, as well as a five-acre field of hops. The vision is reality and the spirit incubating inside me is kicking me awake.
As we walk the trails this morning I observe the large mounds of rocks scattered throughout the property. I see the first settlers carrying each of these stones by hand as they clear the land. Even before they remove the stones, they take out the trees. We nod to each other in appreciation – I in awe of their stamina and determination, and they to give thanks that someone is again caring for their home.
On the far side of the barn, under the willows, I come across the farmer’s wife tending to her vegetable garden. All that remains today are a rhubarb plant and a few stalks of feathery asparagus hidden in tall grass. The woman doesn’t ask me to replant the garden. She is envious of the luxury of a supermarket nearby.
In the barn itself, the floor is shaped and worn by the hooves of milk cows. The farmer and his wife take turns milking their small herd – he in the early morning while she prepares breakfast, and she in the afternoon while he is still in the fields. They look at us in disbelief – our life is so easy!
The new farmhouse sits on the foundation of the old one, with the old cellar intact. Stepping down into coolness in the now empty space, I can see the bins of stored root vegetables and shelves of home-canned goods. The farmer’s wife is upstairs admiring the bathtub and the electric oven that heats up with just the turn of a knob.
I will never be lonely here.