When the Heart Is Wiser Than the Head

2006, a few months before Vic got sick

“You’ll figure it out,” Vic said, gently pulling me into a long hug. He wasn’t interested in making decisions about my life after his death. He trusted me and had no interest in planning his funeral or my future. I’d handled the finances for years, but fretted about where I would live without him.

“I can’t stay in the house by myself,” I said. “Firewood, plowing, gardening, and winter roads. I should move to town,” I argued with no one but myself. “I just don’t know where else I want to be.”

Vic and I worked on this neglected house for 35 years to create the beauty we’d imagined when we fell in love with the land in 1972. When he was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2006, one son lived in North Carolina and the other in California. I loved our old farm house and especially the land, but keeping it humming was a two-person job.

I’m a woman who likes a plan, so I had to come up with a practical one–and I had to get lucky.

It was obvious to everyone else that I should move. Maybe wait a year before deciding. Maybe sell this place and go to North Carolina or move to town, but the summer passed with no plan. There was nothing I liked more than being in the oak forest with my dogs or in the garden or watching birds and deer from the deck at sunset. My sons came often that first summer and fall after Vic’s death, but I didn’t want to make them responsible for my wild woman choices.

Matt with his dogs and mine checking an uprooted tree in the forest

So I remembered what my heart loved and began imagining ways to stay.

I clearly needed a helper so searched Vic’s cell phone, found the name Matt, and called the number. “Are you the Matt who helped Vic Mansfield with firewood the last few years?” I asked. “I’m sorry I don’t know your last name and you probably don’t know Vic died in June.”

“That’s me,” he said, “and I’m sorry about Vic. I knew he was sick. I’ll come by to talk to you tomorrow.”

Matt agreed to take care of firewood and soon I counted on him to take care of the tractor, to plow in a snowstorm, and mow the summer trails. He read equipment manuals, did tractor maintenance, and helped me make decisions about the property. He became a trusted friend, and I got to know his family, too. He fixed whatever was broken, including my shaky plan.

But that decision was made in 2008. A woman, now in her 70s, should live in town, not with dogs in the country. Right?

Gardening with my son & neighbor Anthony

The question hovered unanswered until my younger son Anthony surprised me by moving here from California four years ago. He’s in the process of buying land and the cabin where he lives three miles from me.

I have support from Matt and Anthony plus a close friend Lisa who lives a mile away and more lifelong friends within a few miles. I feel Vic’s positive presence in every tree he planted and every trail he made. This old farm house with a stack of dry firewood on the front porch and two dogs warming their bones by the woodstove is still my home in this world.

For now.


Have you changed where you live because your life or health changed? Or did you find a way to make the place where you already lived work? I’ve been grateful for my choice during the pandemic as I wander the land without a mask and take walks and snowshoe hikes with friends. I haven’t been able to convince my NC son to move here and I understand why. He has a beautiful home and business in NC.

For other articles about Vic’s and my choice to protect the land with the Finger Lakes Land Trust, see For the Love of Trees. For more history of this area before European conquerors stole the land and nearly eradicated the tribes, see On Iroquois Land.

  1. Dearest Elaine,

    Beautifully penned! I feel it’s amazingly brave of you to stay in your old farmhouse after Vic died. Many practical folk would’ve have left soon after I’m sure or been talked into doing so by a caring and worried relative, but not you! Thank goodness! You see for me whenever I read your words it feels like you’re living in the middle of one of my favourite poems … surrounded by the beauty, inspiration and wisdom of Mother Nature Herself. And who could leave a place where the heartfelt presence of your beloved Green Man is to be sensed on every trail, meadow and stream throughout your beloved ancient woodland.

    What a long, deep investment of heart, mind, body, spirit and soul thirty five years is! It’s just amazing how you found Matt’s number and how years later, Anthony relocated to your neck of the woods too. One way or another, your heart had its own plans as love won the day and you stayed! I like to believe that Vic knew it would go this way.

    And then there’s the Monarch butterflies and how, if you had moved to town, you would’ve missed creating your ever-growing porch nursery and the joy you’ve brought to so many, let alone yourself, who’ve witnessed their miraculous cycle of life before you release them for their journey home. No, you were meant to stay and the rewards will be great for many years to come!

    As I think of you today, watching Willow and Disco laying by the woodstove, I think of all the footsteps, tears and laughter that have entered your home over these 35 years and know that the heart is indeed wiser than the head. This was a joy to read!

    Love and light, Deborah.

    • Deborah, are you calling me impractical. (Joking!) I covered all possibilities and have a longer list of local helpers I didn’t name for the car, the plumbing, the various repairs and painting. I also went to a financial adviser and worked out the cost of staying here vs moving to a one bedroom apartment in town. It was much less expensive to stay here. All practical matters were considered but the heart won. I sometimes feel like I’m living in one of your poems, too, in the Land of the Green Man. Snow melted and the moss is dark green and luscious near the streams. I’m more of a Nature Mystic than ever.

      I’ll respectfully correct your timing. We bought this house in 1972, so it’s close to 50 years since we moved here. Vic died 13 years ago. Many years! And, yes, how could I raise Monarchs in town? It wouldn’t be possible. I need these fields of wildflowers and milkweed. I’m waiting for this week’s report on how the migrating Monarchs are doing. I know many people in the southern part of the country are trying to help them, but I’m sure their numbers will be down. I need one male and one female to make it here to start a nursery since one female lays hundreds of eggs. I’ll be out at dawn finding those eggs before the spiders and other insects eat them.

      I tend to want a life roadmap which sometimes means forcing a decision even when I’m not sure. I’m glad I didn’t do that this time. Sending you love, spring flowers (nothing blooming on my hill so far), and beautiful birdsong. The spring birds sing to me on my morning walks. Love and joy and good health to you, dear friend.

      • Ha-Ha! Math was never my strong suit. Wow, half a century! I’m so pleased that your heart won. “Nature Mystic”, I love that and can imagine you getting up early in the summer mornings to beat old Grandmother Spider to the Monarch’s eggs! Oh, and in the mornings … how the birdsong is building up now until it will reach its Beltane crescendo … when the Goddess and Her beloved Green Green come together again. Love and light, Deborah.

        • A long time, eh? I’m no kid anymore, but we were kids when we bought this place. I love this building up time as the sun strengthens, but there are still piles of snow on the ground. No flowers here so far, but they’ll come soon. Have a love-filled day.

  2. “For now.”

    Elaine my dear,
    That put the point on it for me. How could we not have noticed impermanence with such vigor; for me, (trying not to make it all about me here) Vic is a radiant being bearing much wisdom and kindness. I feel that more since he died, or notice it more. Such a potent one leaves its mark, it’s “traces left behind,” as Anthony D. once said he’d do.
    You write with such wisdom about grief, thank you.

    • How could we not have noticed how life goes by in a snap? And now how many old friends are sick or suffering? I also notice how saintly and idealized Vic has become since his death, but I miss the quick quips, ability to argue and get over it, and the way he could physically manifest a fantasy (like this house, his tractor, the paths in the woods). Vic became kinder and sweeter than ever when he was sick because he said (I paraphrase), I don’t have mental or physical energy to do what I used to do, but I can be kind. I thought he became a full student of the Dalai Lama in that way. If I got rattled by medical mistakes or machinery malfunctions or a doctor prescribing a terrible drug (happens all the time to people going through cancer therapy), he’d soothe me and reassure everyone. That was his last practice, and I find I’m less temperamental after being with him in those last years. He wanted to leave a gentle trace and he did. Thank you, dear Fred.

  3. I admire your choice to stay on the land, which has sustained you over the years, especially during the pandemic, when nature has seemed the only tangible way to soothe ourselves. No masks out in the wild!

    If Vic has been your Green Man, you have true Blue Men and lovely Lisa, close by. I am struck by how much Anthony looks like Vic, and he probably shares many of his character traits as well.

    We moved over 4 years ago to our current address for at least two reasons. First of all, we needed a one-floor layout, not a tri-level. Also, we are closer to our daughter now, though she and her husband may move after the children are out of college in 5-6 years. Most importantly, we are close to nature, living in a preserve with woodlands, a lake, and all the wildlife that goes with it, especially the birds.

    I like your title, which suits you to a tee! And I agree, the heart is usually wiser than the head because it intuits what the mind may miss. Lovely post, Elaine! 🙂

    • Thank you, Marian. Anthony looks a lot like Vic, but so does my other son David–although not so much right now because he grew a long beard this year. They both got his Italian curls and sense of humor. I remember that you moved and it sounds like an ideal place where you have nature close by. My house is two story, but I could live on one story since there’s a full bath and extra bedroom on the first floor. That was part of my practical considerations. And this past summer I had a new walkway built, so it was designed to be walker and wheelchair friendly with wide steps and a sturdy railing near the driveway. I also consulted with a man who helps me with various repairs and he said it would be very easy to install a walk-in shower to replace the tub shower I now have. I haven’t done that, but I’m covering all the bases–although we truly can’t. One day I’ll wake up and know it’s time to leave here, so I hope I can do that with grace.

      • Elaine, you do everything with grace, and I’m so happy you have planned ahead and can make more adaptations until you choose to move. Peace and joy to you, my friend!

  4. I stayed in my beloved cottage near the sea, until a few months ago. It is far from doctors and shops but I managed because we loved it so much. I stayed for 9 years after Pete died. But I’m 80 this year and the garden and house were getting increasingly decrepit. I made the decision to move to a lovely town called Beverley where Pete was brought up and where my daughter and grandchildren live. I don’t regret staying on alone in the cottage and now I don’t regret the move either. It took me years to decide but Pete is here too. I’m so glad you didn’t have to move, but for me the right time came and I’m glad I did it now.

    • Jan, that’s been another deciding factor for me. When I can’t keep up the house even with help, it will be time to move. How nice that you live in the same town with your daughter and grandchildren. The kids grow up fast, so it’s good you’re near them. It’s lovely to have no regrets about either place you live, and I agree that Pete will always be with you wherever you go. That’s not place dependent, but love dependent. (I’m still going through and sorting the stuff of a life, a slow process, so when it’s time to move it won’t be quite so overwhelming. It’s a victory every time I give something away.) Congratulations on your new home and location near family. I feel so fortunate my younger son moved near me.

  5. I applaud your decision to stay, Elaine. I stayed also, after my husband died in 2011, but lately it’s become harder. I don’t have nearly the challenges you do, but lugging garbage and recycling down my private, unpaved road in the winter is sometimes treacherous. I have found ways around it, thanks to my sister. My art studio is here and that’s the main reason I stay. A daughter nearby also helps!

    • You have good reasons to stay, Lynne–and winter always makes me wonder why I live here. This icy year was particularly challenging, but I got through each day and because of the pandemic, I didn’t have anywhere to go anyway. So we made it through the winter, the world is greening and there are flowers in some places, and the driveway must seem easier without snow. Yes, I can imagine how challenging it would be to move your art studio or to find a space that pleases you in the same way as the one you’ve created. May we stay strong.

  6. It’s wonderfully assuring to know that where your heart led you is where you are Elaine in spite of possible anticipated and real difficulties. This is so inspiring and I thank you for this. And having Anthony close by is such a plus. I feel similarly in that our elder son Mike is a mere 6 kms away in his own home and he is a caring and loving son. I know that the time will come that we move into a smaller home on a smaller piece of land and a single storey, instead of three stories … but this does me a little bit more careful and attentive to what is in front, behind and what may be a blind spot –

    • Susan, staying here went more smoothly than I had anticipated–and one my helpers not mentioned in the blog knows every corner and cranny of this 200 year old place because he’s worked on it over the years. He knows the plumbing, the electric, the oddities of an elderly home. He and his friend will paint the outside this summer–a new coat of forest green.

      Our sons are about the same distance away, and I trust both my sons will help me when it’s time to move. My laundry, recycling, and some food storage is in the basement, so if I count that, I have 3 stories. Going up and down the stairs is part of keeping me fit and balanced, so I like the stairs. Vic built a new railing going into the basement when he was ill. Let’s love what we have and let the future unfold as it will in ways we haven’t yet imagined. I love the beauty of South Africa seen through your eyes.

  7. Elaine, I understand about not wanting to leave Home. I, too, need to make a plan. But I cannot fathom living anywhere else. It sure does take a lot of help to run my place too. And the days of being able to do physical work on the place by myself are over. You were indeed lucky to find someone who could help. One day, maybe, we’ll be ready to move to more manageable homes but meanwhile we’re gonna enjoy our beautiful spots and all the memories and history they contain for us.

    • I am fortunate when it comes to helpers–many who’ve helped for many years and grown older like I have. They enjoy a job where the owner isn’t in a hurry and feels fine if they work half days. I agree with you about enjoying our homes which is easy to say now that the ice and snow melted. I had the most beautiful walk in the woods with a friend and her dog today. Disco was ecstatic to see a 4-legged buddy she hadn’t seen in months, and I loved walking with a friend. Spring is here! (And winter could return for a short stay at any moment, but meanwhile we know there will be more sunny days like this.)

  8. This post is wonderfully reassuring to me too. I so admire your choice to stay in the home you and Vic made together for as long as you can. You’ve practiced living your life with awareness, wisdom, heart, and learning to accept whatever comes every day. That practice will continue to serve you well through whatever is to come.

    Our home is only 40 years old and the cabin in the mountains only 35. But they’re both made of wood and are both undergoing repairs as I write. I’m still in the “I want to stay here forever” mode with both of them, but know that’s not realistic. The 30 acres around the cabin require ongoing maintenance as well and we need a lot of help with that. Until very recently I’ve enjoyed projects that improve on both properties — a new kitchen, a creek-side garden, additional landscaping. But lessons in impermanence are everywhere and I’m losing the motivation.

    Now I just want to clean out closets and the garage and throw out or give away as many things as I can part with. That’s enough for the time being. Following our hearts has worked for us so far and we prepare for the inevitable as best we can. Fortunately, both children and their families live within ten minutes of us so that’s very comforting.

    We’ve been preparing for this all our lives, haven’t we? The opus isn’t over yet.

    • The opus isn’t over yet, but the fleeting quality of life grows stronger. It makes me appreciate each day more, especially with spring coming on and the snow and ice melted. I thought I wanted to do lots of cleaning this winter, but only did a little. I celebrated each time I gave something away or took something to the Reuse It Center. I’m inefficient with chores, although I’ll be supremely efficient about tending Monarchs (their migration looks better than expected as the frozen milkweed plants send up new shoots) and I’m disciplined about walking the dogs (and myself). So what can I get rid of around here today? I’ll find something to put in the give away box or pass on to one of my sons.

      I’m working through your book ‘The Soul’s Twins’ for the second time–slowly, from the beginning, and working on the archetypes and contemplating the changes throughout my life and how they manifest now. My lunar dominance surprises me, but shouldn’t. So now I’m exploring how the particular feminine archetypes show up in my life. Then on to the Solar Archetypes and considering what I projected on Vic since he’s still such a strong inner figure. I hope you’re planning a lovely time in the NC mountains this summer with a dog at your side. Stay safe and strong.

  9. Beautiful story Elaine.
    I understand the uncertainty of grief and the trepidation of the unknown. But like you, I learned to trust my heart and the whispers that flow up to my head. They are true and powerful.
    Keeping listening strong lady. Perhaps our paths will cross again.

    • Thanks for commenting, Kim. I know you understand. For now I’m in the right place for me. For now, my dogs agree as they lie in patches of March sun coming through the windows. I wonder how my path will cross with anyone who doesn’t live within an hour’s drive. Zoom is a poor substitute for in person, especially when hearing is a mess like mine and people are masked so I can’t read lips. I feel relaxed staying home, seeing friends in my local pod, and not traveling far. Maybe I’ll feel ready to enter the airport world by fall, but we’ll see how covid unfolds. I’m listening. I know you are, too.

  10. Funny how I see myself in both the post and the responses. “Lessons in impermanence are everywhere” indeed. I’ve been here 4 years alone, and the angle of the sunlight March 19 is exactly as it was those awful, drawn-out 4 days of the end. It’s amazing how the light just takes me right back. I remember, even then while he was slipping away, thinking, “What am I going to do with this place?” I haven’t figured it out, and not for lack of mental gymnastics, but I am closer than ever to “leave.” External factors are inexorably pushing me out, less the physical upkeep and more the social, financial and personal costs of remaining in a city that seems to be mired in poor leadership, riots and criminal activity of all sorts, etc. Despite that, people here are clamoring to buy and put down their own roots. But where to go, ah yes that is the question, and do I want to take on another big project, start all over again, alone this time? I feel like I “should” grow in other directions, try new life experiences, but it’s so much easier to just stay put. There is rootedness, and there is stagnation. I don’t know where the middle ground lies.

    • Joe, I feel your difficult conflict and this is the time of year when you remember what must be the hardest days of your life. We have so many biological cues. For me it’s the blossoming of lupines, but over the years it’s made me happy rather than sad, and I’m grateful I can still walk through the lupine fields this spring. So many people are happy with moving their home after a partner dies. Complete strangers insisted that moving and starting over was the only thing that made them happy–and would make me happy. I knew my decision had to come from within or I had to wait until I felt sure. It sounds like you’re becoming sure. Ah, where to go? It’s been hard to look around during lockdown, but maybe it will get easier now. Does anything draw you? It’s good to live near a support network and I have that here not just with my son. I agree that rootedness can be stagnation, and I also know that someday I’ll have to leave here and that will be OK in its own way. May there be patience and clarity for you.

      • Thank you. Fortunately I have not had anyone try to tell me what would make me happy. The only things that do, anymore, are flowers, growing plants, bees, butterflies, various insects, birds, running water, etc. I would like nothing more than to find a little place not too far out there where I can make space for all those things. Even the fact that it takes 3-4 years for prairie plants to reach maturity and flower is fine with me. I could use that time to establish a support network while the plants and seeds put down their own roots. I just don’t know yet *where.* That’s the hardest part, it seems.

        • It feels like you’re zeroing in on what you need to thrive. Maybe with covid backing off, you can visit a few places and see what feels right. Let me know what comes up.

  11. My dear Elaine, I am sorry for my belated comment, as you might remember, about my situation with the twilight feelings.
    I always need to have enough time to read your articles because I want to read every word and take them fully in my heart. I am so glad that Anthony moved to your area, and you do not need to move to him.
    For me, it is another story because the changing home for me was mostly unwillingly, especially when Al and I escaped from Iran. Of course, it a long story which I will write it down one day, but I believe that when we live in a place for a long time, we’ll take root there. Therefore, change is difficult for us.
    Anyway, I am so happy that you were lucky and could arrange to stay where you like to live.

    • It’s not belated, Aladin, at least not from my perspective. Yes, I’m glad Anthony is settling here “permanently”–and by that I mean he’s buying the property and cabin where he lives. He’s always willing to help, and I try not to ask for much. We like gardening and cooking together.
      Yes, I know it’s another story for you. A tragic story. You lost so much, and then to lose Al, too. I can’t imagine having to escape from my home, but that’s the experience of so much of the world, including the Dalai Lama when he was a young man traveling across the frozen mountains into India to escape the Chinese army. I think it’s important for you and for the rest of the world to write your story. I want to know what happened to you and how it felt to be uprooted in that way. My parents with me and my brother moved frequently when I was a child, but I was always drawn to my grandparents way of life rooted in one place in the land.

  12. What a beautiful piece, Elaine. Your heart knew (and still knows) what your wild woman needs, and it seems the universe is supporting your decision to stay in your beloved place in a myriad of ways. And what you wrote to Susan is so lovely: “Let’s love what we have and let the future unfold as it will in ways we haven’t yet imagined.”
    We live in a small cabin in a remote area, and it will get more difficult for my husband to manage the snow plowing, wood chopping, and so much more as he ages. (My illness now prevents me from providing much help in the outer world.) However, you remind me that there may be a “Matt” in the wings when the time comes. Both our daughter and son have built houses on our land (where they stay on their regular visits), though currently they both live and work an hour away, so they will be involved in helping us (or whoever is still alive) make whatever decisions need to be made when the time comes.
    May you enjoy these early days of spring. Yesterday we heard the first frog of the season and saw the first salmonberry blossoms. At the moment, it is cold and absolutely pouring, though some sun is predicted in a couple of days, so perhaps March will go out like a lamb.
    Peace and love to you, Anne

    • Thank you, Anne. I always look forward to your comments. My son closed on his cabin and land 3 miles from me last week. It’s nice to know he’s there. I didn’t know (until now) that you’re also in a remote area. The work of keeping this place going (firewood, snow plowing, trail mowing in the summer, gardening, etc.) was overwhelming. For the first summer and fall after Vic’s death one of my son’s came for 4 days each month and that kept things afloat until I realized that couldn’t go on forever. So I searched through Vic’s cell phone contacts. Matt is a godsend.

      I hear peeper frogs from the pond across the road and snowdrops and a few early crocuses are blooming. It turned cold again and I haven’t seen the bluebird boy for 3 days. His lady may have decided on a different nesting box or a cavity in the woods, but I don’t see any cavity nesters now. Maybe it’s just too cold. I’m always in a hurry, peering through binoculars at the nesting boxes. Where are they? Where are they? They will come, the sensible part of me says. May you have a peaceful warm spring.

Leave a Reply