Memorial Day has once again passed on the calendar with the remembrance of our soldiers and loved ones. We have honored those that gave us freedom with speeches and flowers laid at a monument. Monuments are powerful reminders of the past, present and future. Last year I wrote about the symbolism of our road, a local soldier, my great grandfather’s barn and our family dog. It was well received. This year my statues of strength are about the emotional ties of strong foundations in a sometimes hurried countryside.
As the sun rises over my barn this day, I can see the silhouette of a monument from my office window that exemplifies strength, honor and respect that once again honors nature. This simple testament of rural perseverance is a massive, 100 year old, deceased elm tree. It’s nothing more than a 30 foot high trunk standing out in the middle of the pasture with one old, log of a branch, sticking out to the left as a perch for our birds of prey. Our farm had many of these beauties, but alas, they perished from Dutch Elm disease, wind and the lightning strike.
As I look at her foundation, worn away from cow hooves, bugs and weather, it is evident that there is something special about the majesty of strong roots. Within the core remains a heartwood that is steadfast like many in the farming community. It looks as though this giving tree will remain despite all the forces to knock her over. This piece of mother-wood gives me inner strength because it forces me to remember the past and hold on to its calling from Mother Nature.
The tree rings of this beauty also seem to coincide with the age of the barn that was demolished last year. It has been lying in a heap of remorse, over grown with brush, stripped of its many beams and boards, waiting to be buried I guess. Under all the rubble, remained a stone foundation that was as straight and true as the day it was laid, by the men who knew about leaving their legacy, much like the elm tree’s heartwood.
Last week a track hoe and dozer arrived from corporate headquarters to smash, crush and bury this monument to the farmers, especially, if you couldn’t tell, this one. By the weekend it was reduced back to the dirt, or was it? As the last rite was given, the ghost of farmers past left the sacred stones visible from the surface. My black Dodge turned into a rescue vehicle as I scoured over the area picking up one and two foot pieces of flat limestone lightly dusted with whitewash. My excitement over saving the stones become almost an obsession as I hauled 3 handpicked truckloads back to the farm while most were planting gardens or watching NASCAR. These blue and gray rocks of history will live once again as a pathway and stonewall I am building. This hardscape may not be a monument but it will have a soul that won’t be forgotten.
It is with a heavy heart that one of our most important farm matriarchs passed away last week leaving behind a legacy of gentleness, passion, strength and love. At 9 years old, Clover, our Alpine Goat, lived a full life and left behind 18 offspring including 3 babies a month old. She started out as kid we bought from Linda Smith at Sherman Hill Farm as a 4-H project. Little did we know she would be this reproductive powerhouse and milkmaker. Sister Cricket and Clover transformed our farm into a playhouse of kids, Kodak memories and Blue ribbons. Clover was a maternity manager, mentor and friend to the flock of the once 40 head. Her demeanor was that of a grandmother; honest, hardworking, sweet and kind. She absolutely loved being a Mom and taking care of little ones, including my daughters. She would also sit with you and listen, contently chewing her cud and nuzzling, while you talked to her about life. She taught us so much and expected so little. The flock was sold last year to a family in PA, but there was no way Clover was going anywhere. Thinking she would go into retirement because of her age in goat years, she surprised everyone by giving us another set of triplets this spring. The urge for motherhood was too strong to keep this lady down.
I was so sad when I found her lying down in the green pasture, her spirit now with the Lord. All I could think of was Psalm 23:2 as a special tribute to our family friend and how one day I hope to lie down in green pastures and be near the still waters.
Monuments here on the farm have special meaning like many in society that remind us of a person, place or event. Taking time to acknowledge these are an important part of our human fabric. For me, a red-eyed, bubbling pile of emotion, writing these thoughts on paper for the public is also considered a monument or marker in time. The grass farmer in me cannot in good conscience forget other critical monuments; Grassland ecosystems, our nation’s topsoil and aquifers and the loss of our farming communities. “Lest we forget”.
(A poignant tale previously published in Lancaster Farming 5/30/09)