Reposted from our original blog, August 5, 2013. I wrote this as we were struggling to explain to ourselves and our family why this journey of our farm was so important to us. We had just chosen the farm's name, and found that many people didn't understand the context, or what it meant. On the three year anniversary of this endeavor, things look vastly different. But it's important to remember where we started, and the dream that pushed it all forward.
The Hillsides We Leave Behind When I was eight and my sister a toddler, our parents bought a farm. It wasn't a working farm, not one that supported us financially, but it had once worked to do just that and it held its farmness firmly in outward appearance. My parents, sister and I embraced it eagerly. It was an old place, 1850s at least, with a huge barn and three-story colonial farmhouse, perched atop a hill with a fabulous view of fields and the mountains across the valley. The house was named "Hillside," aptly so, and I was so proud that my address - back before house numbers were required by the post office - was simply that: Hillside. The house had an identity of its own that we took on when we moved in, and we loved it, each for our own reasons. While my father worked painstakingly on renovating the house and barn, fascinated by the old construction, the artifacts and stories each addition revealed and told, and the craftsmanship of each (rotting, but still solid) beam, the women in the family immersed themselves in everything else a colonial farm could offer.
We kept horses, one for each of us in a progression of creatures that, in hindsight, each reflected the stage of life and personality of its owner. My stubborn first pony when I was a 12 year-old tomboy was outgrown and replaced by a rebellious and ornery colt that took me years to train as I struggled equally through my teen angst. We rode our horses all over the hill, on trails we discovered and explored, on dirt roads that led to hidden parts of town we had never seen from the car. We found blackberry patches that we waded into, long sleeves and pruning shears fending off the brambles, and Mom taught us to make jam and pie with the gallons of berries my sister and I toted home. We trekked into the neighboring orchards and woods for grapevines that we wove into baskets and wreaths. We dabbled in chickens, in ducks, in pigs. We were right-hand daughters as Dad designed and built outbuildings that involved countless hours of planning and instruction and, finally, construction. We learned to rough it when Dad tore the roof off the house to discover a progression of rot that could only be remedied by tearing down the third floor, and then the second below it, until our shower was in the formal dining room and we skirted over boards across a floor-less living room to get to the kitchen. We saw the house rebuilt, and I sat as an heiress, overlooking the kingdom I imagined I would always have. My children would return to this house to play with their grandparents. Someday, my grandchildren would return to visit me while I tended Mom's old garden. It would be my inheritance, the one most important thing in the world to have: this house, this identity. Hillside, which was me.
The imaginings and dreams of a teenage girl seldom come true, and this was no exception. My parents divorced while I was in college, the house was sold, and new lives and dreams competed with the heartache of losing Hillside to another family. Time moved on, and my children now know nothing of that house. My husband has never seen it. Since it changed hands, the old barn - so lovingly restored to its post and beam glory - has burned to the ground and been rebuilt with a modern stable. My father and I went back several years ago and knocked on the door of the house, hoping to see it again, hoping for permission to feel the sense of ownership we immediately felt when we entered the driveway. The woman who answered the door was confused, skeptical, leery of our eagerness to claim knowledge of her home. She didn't allow us into the house. We never saw whether the cherry floors I stood on as Dad screwed them down from below were still there, if the banisters he hand-made still stood, if my old room still had the same view that I remembered from 15 years earlier. She did let us see the new barn and her horses, and she listened graciously while Dad reminisced about the property. We finally left, disillusioned and resentful somehow. It was no longer our home, but we realized we had hoped that somehow it was still our house. Dad moved back to his new home overseas and, I suppose, closed the chapter on his identity as it related to Hillside. I mourned its loss again and moved on, too.
But perhaps I have mourned when I should not have. Hillside the location was not my inheritance, but even if it had been, would not it have changed into something other than what I had growing up? The idyllic memory of my childhood in that place is forever preserved, likely even more glorious in memory than it really was because the place is no longer mine. What have I truly lost, then? The gift of Hillside was not its location, or its beauty, or the notoriety of having lived in such a prominent place in town. The true gift of Hillside was in the grapevine baskets and wreaths that I know how to make with my own children. It was in the love of work that starts early in the day and shows a return by noon. It was in the confidence that I can grow things, build things, make a life out of the land. I am stronger for having had such a childhood of privilege, one full of rough hands and beautiful views, but that is not where it must end; indeed, that must not be where it ends. I understand now that the purpose of living and loving and losing Hillside was in learning to pass it on. People can inherit land and homes, but if they don't continue to teach the lessons those homes hold at their cores, then the inheritance means nothing, and does a disservice to the word.
My husband and I have finally settled on a name for our farm, after several months of trying things on for size, feeling them out, discarding them. A true inheritance is not what we receive in tangible goods, but what we take with us in our souls, what we leave behind in a better state for others to use, to learn from, to pass on in turn. It is not connected to any one place or thing, but it is what my parents - and Hillside - truly did leave to me: the knowledge of how to grow, and build, and love. Hillside will exist long after our family's living memory of it has gone, just as it did long before we had ever seen it. Whatever Sam and I create, and wherever we create it, will do the same, God willing. And so I think back to my teenage self, who sat in awe of all that might someday be handed to her, who mourned its loss when the house was sold, and I tell her: Thank goodness you finally realized that your inheritance has been sitting beside you all along.
Ray is part of the Ray and Randi duo, who actually don't live on the farm. They have a micro-homestead in Gilmanton, but are VERY active over at IFP and are guest bloggers for them.
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Inheritance Farm Permaculture