At the farm I didn’t write very much.
I brought a couple of books to read, but I didn’t open them.
I stayed up late every night, talking in the quiet hours with Emma and Sarah and Sally, with whomever stayed awake and was chatty. I didn’t rise exceptionally early because my kids are late sleepers and those of them who were not were capable of having a bowl of cereal downstairs with the other early risers.
We saw rainbows more than once at the farm. Once, as the rain begin to chase us, we chased the rainbow’s end. It seemed so perfectly catchable. It was right there – over the hill, landing by the pond, in the trees. Bergen Hawkeye and Uncle Nate raced together and most of us followed after them and we never reached the rainbow but we might as well have.
It’s hard to explain the farm in words entirely, if you’ve never driven down the long wooded driveway.
If you’ve never seen the moon’s full glow and the stars bold shining from the Virginia front yard. If you’ve never dipped into the muddy cold waters of the Pigg River or seen the sun sinking low from the meadow’s perfect vantage point.
This particular farm is about six miles from the dairy farm where my three brothers and I grew up. Country neighbors.
(That’s the willow tree in our front yard after which Piper earned one of her many middle names. A gift to my mother from me, twenty-six years ago in August, as I was leaving home for college, freshman year.)
The other farm, the one we visit every summer (and times in between), is the farm of my framily. There are two houses at this farm. And they’re both all kinds of special to me for a myriad of reasons.
This family (who would become my framily) I met through babysitting. Met them before there were even five children. I was in high school. I started babysitting at their farm before I could even legally drive from one farm to the other. (Unless I was in the farm truck and I called it “farm business” because back then (and maybe now, who knows) you could drive unlicensed vehicles and unlicensed people on farm business. Or so my dad told us kids.) On one such drive from farm to farm, I slid my vehicle right into a giant ditch. Before cell phones I was stuck walking to an acquaintance’s house and using their rotary phone to call my dad. Who offered minimal sympathy and said something like, “You’ll have to wait until I finish plowing this field/milking this cow/planting this corn because I’m not stopping to get you right now.”
Eventually I would live in both of the farm houses at some point in my story. And before actually residing in either, I might as well have lived in both for the long number of hours I logged babysitting at one time or the other every summer from tenth grade until I graduated from college.
For the first nine months or so of marriage, we lived in one farm house, until we saved enough money and headed south to finish school. After a handful of years in North Carolina we trekked it back to the farm to settle down deep for a decade of bringing home babies and kids to the other farm house.
Every single Keigley kid except Otto was first brought home to Gray Mountain Farm. We raised goats – one summer we had about twenty! I started my teaching career there. And left it too. It was a beautiful space to raise babies and make friends and be framily and spread our wings and run wide and walk quiet. It was a good decade in so many ways. (And a hard one too. Jumping from zero children to four children in three years through adoption and birth is a whirlwind of a choice.)
There were concerns for me, that first trip back to the farm after everything shifted. The After in my story’s timeline. Would it be all bitter and no sweet? Would driving down that driveway, driving right into history itself, be too much to bear? Would the wounds sting more in the presence of our tender and unburdened beginnings? What if the ghosts of all that had come before mocked me at every bend in the road?
What a gift, what a breath of lovely and grace and kindness and hope, to discover that the pain wasn’t pain at all. That the ghosts, in fact, did not even exist. The farm has some other life to it, some other sense of rising above and transcending, and even if that sounds too corny to be real, too greeting card, that doesn’t matter to me. Because it’s true. The driveway still makes me feel relief, makes my lungs capacity increase, makes my life feel enough. The good memories dominate. The mountains care for you. Your thoughts and your worries both are safe in the green grass and the blue skies and the big clouds. All the breathing comes slower and steadier.
The farm serves as a metaphor for all sorts of things in my own life, in the lives of my children, in the history of me and my family. Mostly, though, it serves its best purpose of being a safe space. A before and during and after. A throughout.