I wrote this quite a few years ago. This describes the home of my heart, a beautiful spot in the woods that has been part of our family since 1964, the year my brother was born. The original owner of the land was a man named Bell, my mother appropriate it for the name of this gorgeous bit of land that we have the privilege to care for. I will share this with you today and tomorrow, even more beautiful words that Mom wrote when she described her love for this place.
Merry placed her hand carefully on the barbed wire fence, looking at the land on the other side with yearning. She had never understood why it was so difficult to get this last corner of the land so that she could feel as if their property was complete. Her parents told her that a harsh man, an old lawyer, owned it and would never give it up. While that made no sense to her, she accepted their words as truth and as a child had vowed that one day she would be able to purchase that tiny little corner and finish what they had started. She was grown up now and it no longer seemed quite as important, yet there was still a sense of incompleteness.
As she walked the fence line, she smiled. Today was going to be a great day. She wanted to walk through the wooded hillside before everyone else arrived. She stopped and sat on a stump at the top of the hill. This was another location she had dreamed of changing throughout her life. There was a perfect entrance from the road and the flat space up here only needed to be cleared of trees and brush. As a little girl she had designed an immense home around the tree that would stand in the center. Merry could still see it in her mind’s eye. Looking around, she saw several of the blocks of wood her father had brought up here many years ago to use as stools for family gatherings.
Tears filled her eyes as she remembered the innocence of a childhood long since lost. Sometimes she felt so alone, so many people had come and gone in her life, yet the land was still here, filled with memories and stories. She pulled herself up off the stump and continued down the fence line, looking over into a neighbor’s twenty acres and remembering yet another dream of owning all of this land and opening it up so the entire family could live together in the same place. Childhood dreams were so expansive, ready to encompass everyone she loved.
As she walked down the hillside, Merry approached the barn-red, wooden fence enclosing the main living area. She climbed over it and continued along the outer fence toward the river. Her hands trailed along tall weeds, while low-hanging tree branches brushed her face as she walked, lost in memories and thoughts. There was nothing in these woods to frighten her, she had walked through them for many years. The earth beneath her feet was as familiar as her own skin. She stumbled across a mole hill, one of thousands in the meadow. She’d never seen one of those animals, but their lives played out every day along with the numerous other animals the filled these acres.
The sound of rushing water brought a new smile to her lips. The river was the heart and soul of the land. It was here that she played with her family in the summertime heat, here where she crawled down a ten-foot embankment to fish with her father. Here was where the trees hung on by deep roots, until erosion finally took them into the river. The old ‘sitting tree,’ with a bent branch hanging out over the river was a favorite place of her mother’s when she needed some peace – away from three energetic children. Her father had created an easier access to the river at the far end of the property, but Merry still preferred to sit on the edge of the high bank, watching the river make its way around the bend. Sandbars poked up through the rushing water where she had searched for clamshells and just up a ways, were the barely recognizable traces of an old mill race. She had traveled the river by canoe and innertube with groups of friends, had walked it checking lines in the middle of the night with her father for fish and had played in it and bathed in it after long, hot days working with her family.
Merry sat for awhile, but realized it was finally time to go back. She walked through the lower meadow, picking her way through the debris of flooding from the river. As she walked past a walnut tree, she stopped for a few moments. letting her fingers trace the indentations of the bark. She bent down to pick up a green walnut, then sniffed her fingers. It never changed. The outer shell of the walnut still smelled the same and she knew she wouldn’t get rid of that scent easily.
A car drove past. She looked up, but they didn’t see her in the meadow. She walked over to the ditch with its steep hillside leading up to the road. Growth had gotten in the way of the beautiful, clean white sand that had been here when she was young.
There wasn’t much left to do. Though she hadn’t walked through all of the valleys and hillsides of the one home that had been a constant throughout her life, she knew each of them intimately. She’d gathered morel mushrooms and gotten lost in piles of leaves on the floors of the ravines. She had picked gooseberries and black raspberries for her mother to make jellies and jams, and played in the golden dirt until only a long swim in the river would clear off the filth.
She looked at the cabin that her parents had built. It had changed over the years, transforming as each generation made it their own. They had always talked of building a real house, but somehow it stayed what it was, a cabin in the woods, ready for families to play in and fill up.
Merry walked down the lane toward the cabin and stopped at the wood fence. She crawled up on it and looked out over the land that she had known as long as she could remember. This was where her heart’s memories stopped. This was where they had begun. She shook herself from her reverie and realized that she had missed much of the excitement happening around her.
Cars filled the lane and people were milling around, laughing, talking and hugging. Children were running through the cars, dogs were barking and chasing in the grass. It was everything she could hope for. Food and suitcases were carried into the cabin, the activity started ramping up. She just sat and watched as it happened around her. Merry certainly didn’t mind being ignored today.
Then the busyness ceased and everyone gathered in one place. She looked on as her nephew, now a father with kids of his own, finished pouring the ashes into a freshly dug hole. It was close to her parents and her grandparents. There were no markers, but everyone knew. That was okay, those remains didn’t mean much at this point, they were just the last remnants of very full lives.
The smile returned one last time. She gazed out over the land that she loved, stepped off the fence, and walked into eternity.