Saturday, August 20, 2011

It's All About the Land

By Kerry Schafer

"All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay

Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air

And playing, lovely and watery

And fire green as grass.

And nightly under the simple stars

As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,

All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars

Flying with the ricks, and the horses

Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white

With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all

Shining, it was Adam and maiden,

The sky gathered again

And the sun grew round that very day.

So it must have been after the birth of the simple light

In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm

Out of the whinnying green stable

On to the fields of praise. " (From FERN HILL, by Dylan Thomas)

Where I choose to live is largely influenced by Where I Don't Live Anymore.

I grew up running free on 160 acres of land on top of a mountain in central British Columbia. The first time I read Fern Hill it created goose bumps all over my body. How did Dylan Thomas know my childhood? How could he capture those golden summers and find the words to share them with the world?

The Farm was magic. We climbed trees and rowed around the pond in an old rowboat. We rode horses and motorcycles and built tree forts. In the winter there was skating and sliding and making tunnels in the snow. Any time I was confused or sad, I escaped into the trees and they comforted me. I took my joys there too, along with all of my dreams and fears.

I was six when we moved there, and by the time I left to go to college when I was 18, the land was bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, even though I didn't live there anymore. When I married at 21, my husband and I moved. A lot. It didn't really matter where we lived, because The Farm was always home, even though I didn't live there anymore. Everything else was just a temporary adventure.

The years passed, and then my Father, who had loved the land as I did, died suddenly of a stroke.

I went on, as one does, even though he had been so vital and alive that his dying seemed inconceivable. The land comforted me. I didn't see it often, but I could still return to visit because my brother and his family had moved in to the old house. And it was always there. I could close my eyes and smell the air.

And then one day my beloved brother called to say he'd chosen to sell.

My world caved in. I wept for days. I couldn't encompass a reality in which I couldn't stand in this particular spot ever again, place my hand on this tree, have that particular view. I was devastated and dispossessed, as though somebody had cut out a big chunk of my soul and handed it to strangers.

Selling was practical and necessary. Neither my brother or I could live there. And still the loss was so overwhelming that I weep now, after the passage of many years, to write about it.

Thomas got that part spot on, too:

"Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me     
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,       
In the moon that is always rising,          
Nor that riding to sleep        

I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land."

Which brings us to NOW, and why I live in this wonderful place where I am now putting down my roots.

Fate brought me here. The Viking and I were living in Pasco, Washington. Both of us hated it there, but that was where we'd washed up, both for different reasons. And then circumstances in the form of a job opportunity moved the Viking here.

We conducted a long distance relationship over the course of a year, uncertain what we were going to do. I had kids, he had kids, we were both gun shy about the combined family venture. Maybe I'd move up and we'd maintain separate households like we'd done before. We talked, we imagined.

And then we found The Land. He called to tell me about it. I drove up to look.

Both of us fell in love on sight. Trees. Mountains. Sky. No visible neighbors. Land of our very own, that nobody can pull out from under us. Not a dream that either of us could manage on our own, but one that we could manage together.

People are always asking, "so what are you going to do with it? Log it? Have livestock? Plant gardens?"

We look at each other and laugh.

"Live on it," we answer.


  1. Lovely.

    I'm glad the Land found you again. :)

  2. Kerry, that is sooo incredibly beautiful. Thanks for sharing. I know how a place can just speak to you, just be /right/ in every way. I'd wish you the best, but it sounds like you've already found it. :-D

  3. Linda & Linda - thank you. A connection like this is such a hard thing to try to explain.

  4. Thanks for this glimpse into the who and the why of your world. It's a good world, innit?

    I came late to living in the woods at twelve, back there in Kansas. And that place too, was magical.

    My folks finally got too old to feel like they could keep up with it and sold a few years ago.

    I sometimes dream, even though I never will, of going back, buying it back, and retiring there.

  5. I love this post. I'm glad you found your place. It will amuse you to know that I feel that way about a much different place: New York City.

    I love it here like you love it there. I joke that people have to pry me out of here with a crowbar. It's not quite all jest.

    I love everything about New York including the rats. I just love them the least of everything.

    When people ask me what's fun to do here, I laugh and say "I don't know. I just live here."

  6. I too love your post. Dylan Thomas is one of my favorite poets and having heard him read aloud his own work, I can picture him in this scene reciting these words.

    I envy your sense of living your "land", twice. I have lived all over the world, in megacities and in the bush, and have appreciated each place for different reasons. But I would like to have this experience too.

  7. John - it's a good dream. Hold onto it.

    Janet - I ran across an amazing passage in a book once that describes this feeling perfectly. Unfortunately I can't locate it now, although I know I wrote it down. It was in French - roughly translated it began with "Each has his own country..." and ended with the idea that if you move from this place, wherever it is, "you must change or die."

  8. So interesting how the land helped you and the Viking come closer together in more ways than just proximity.

    The part where your brother sold the homestead? Made me sniffle.

  9. Joanna - I'd love to travel more, but only if I still could come back here.

    KAK - the way the Viking and I both feel about the land is definitely one of the things that ties us together. And yeah - I sniffled too. And it's been a long, long time.

  10. If ever there was a place that stood in for 'home' for me, it was my grandparents' farm - another tract of land. There was a garden where I helped pick okra and watermelon and corn, or sat under the pecan tree shelling black-eyed peas. There was a pond. Filled with catfish, now. Trees, lightning bugs,and pasture that seemed to go on forever. It's still a part of me, even if it's been divided up and parceled out, now. I had a shot at owning part of it, but Arkansas? I couldn't do it. There's no ocean.

  11. Such a beautiful post, Kerry. Your father left you something rich and wonderful.