Saving the Farm

In July 1972, they moved with their baby boy to a crumbling farmhouse on a dirt road and immediately got to work. She cleared cobwebs in the cellar while he made shelves from old barn boards. Like her grandmother, she grew vegetables and picked summer fruit. She canned to feed the family in winter and arranged the jars on the shelves in a rainbow of color, red tomatoes next to blushing apricots, pale pear next to yellow beets.

They demolished an old wood shed and a crumbling out building that once housed a wagon.  He helped her rototill and plant a garden, teaching her how to use both sides of the rake, one to pull away debris and one to smooth the soil.

He rebuilt a collapsing cellar wall while their second child watched from a safe distance while his daddy tore off the front porch, jacked up the house from underneath, and pulled out stones, rock by rock. Mixing mortar, he built a strong foundation with the old stones.

Snow seeped through a split in the roof when the wind blew from the south, so he replaced part of the roof, too. One project at a time for almost four decades while he taught full time 100 miles away and wrote three books. This farm was his childhood dream come true and worth the effort.

When the kids were older, the family pulled plaster from crumbling walls, trying to avoid the dust. She reluctantly learned to finish sheetrock, but preferred glazing old windows.

“It’s a two adult house for the wildly industrious,” she said before the kids were old enough to help him with firewood. She said it again when their sons left home to find their way in the world.

Once again, she went with him to the forest when he cut firewood. He wore chaps and a helmet while he used a sharp chainsaw to cut sick trees. She wore earplugs while she loaded cut logs in the wagon.

He threatened, with a laugh, to give all his tools away, but without kids at home, they could afford to hire helpers for big projects. They bought a new orange tractor, too. In 2006, after adding a sunset deck, new windows and siding, and painting the house forest green, they threw up their hands and said, “We’re done!”

The following winter, his vitality disappeared, but he kept trying. During chemotherapy when he was too sick to write, he built a safe railing for the steep stairs to the cellar.

She couldn’t save him, but they’d saved the farm, so the two person house became a one person house with helpers for gardens, firewood, and mower.

When she descended to the cellar, she grabbed the smooth wooden railing, admired the stone foundation, and thanked him for support. The old canning jars and cellar shelves were once again covered with cobwebs


I’m still not ready to leave the old house, the forest, or the beautiful sunset. Have you made choices you never thought you’d make? There will be a time to go, but I’m still raising Monarchs and gardening and burning firewood. I’m still grateful for deep roots and helpers, including one of my sons who now lives just a few miles away.

For other posts about why I’m still in my country home, see For the Love of Trees. Or more to the point, see Lessons from Artemis, Goddess of the Wild.

  1. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

    • Thank you, Mark. I thought we were nuts to buy this house, but Vic had a vision and I caught his bug after I saw my first magnificent sunset here.

  2. It’s your home. It’s Vic’s home. It’s your sons’ home. All those flakes and tiny strands of everyone’s DNA are still floating in the air and embedded in the floor boards. All those atoms and the larger molecules of spirit energies are still inhabiting the home. The grace and peace of the woodlands are still enveloping the home. I’m so happy for you that you can remain within the home with this gift of time. I have held on to the family home where I grew up 70 miles east of your home although I live 2,000 miles away. As summer deepens I return for a several too short weeks each year and stepping through the door I am home – again. I am always asked, “what are you going to do with the place?” In my mid seventies I respond, just keep holding on. The someday that will eventually come when I can no longer return home remains a mystery. A vague shadowy outline of a decision that I think perhaps I will just slip into in an unknown way that I have no clear vision of. The home will be passed on to grandchildren and great grandchildren of my parents, some who have attached to it, others not so much. Then it will be their decision.

    • Our imprint is here and Vic’s ashes are buried under a red oak in the forest. I didn’t think I’d stay after he died, but couldn’t bring myself to leave or find a good reason to go. Yes, it’s our family home. I walk in the forest with the dogs every day, one son bought a place only 5 minutes away, and the other son is visiting right now. We’re all attached to this home, maybe because we worked so hard to save it. I’m in my mid 70s, too, and still have more walks in these legs. It’s also a perfect spot for someone who craves silence. I don’t have grandchildren, but my sons will inherit the land, and it has a conservation easement so it can’t be developed. Vic and I couldn’t stand the thought of someone cutting the acres of old oaks for lumber, so the restriction goes along with the deed. In many ways, saving the forest is more important than saving the house. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Jan. I appreciate it. I’m glad you still have a place that feels like home.

  3. These are a lot of deeds, good deeds you and Vic have done. The roots are mostly more substantial than one might imagine. I hope you will continue doing what you’ve done till now, in total health and enthusiastically. Thank you for this heart-touching story. Blessing

    • Vic had so much energy, Aladin, and he put it to good use with studying, teaching, and writing and also remodeling this house and caring for the land. I learned so much from him about how much can be done with focus, discipline, a sense of humor, and persistence. He loved a defined project and liked working toward the goal. We were a good team and I still benefit from all we did together. Blessings to you, too.

  4. Beautifying and maintaining a home is a kind of prayer ♥

    • I agree, Ashen. This home is my large (and sometimes messy) altar. I moved here in 1972, so 50 years of prayers and meditation, too.

  5. Still recovery from eye surgery, but I must tell you I am thrilled to read about your saving the farm and preserving these precious memories, Elaine. Love this!

    • Marian, it’s amazing to hear from you. I know you understand the attachment to a farm and land. May you heal well and quickly from surgery. Sending love.

  6. This is, simply, gorgeous. I feel it heart deep. Though they built the house new, my parents nurtured and raised their daughters in the home I now live in for 35 years, until my father died. And my mother continued for another 23. She didn’t mean to stay, and couldn’t bear to leave. They are gone now, and I’m trying. A very messy altar, indeed. I don’t intend to stay. And I don’t know if I can bear to leave. Such resonance in your story and comments.

    • Thank you, Gretchen. My husband and I were daring and had no idea it would take 30 years of effort to save this old place–and it never ends. My son owns a place about 3 miles from here with his own land, so I don’t know what will happen to this place when it’s time for me to move on. My sons want to keep it in the family and they love this place, too, but I tell them not to be too sentimental. Eventually, since neither of them have children, someone outside the family will live here. It’s reassuring to have a conservation easement and know the forest can’t be “harvested” for lumber. I love the old oaks and hickories. (I didn’t intend to stay, but there’s no place I’d rather be, so here I am.)

  7. Labours of Love with a vision to structure the home. And the supports were there which you provided. Simply lovely Elaine. I felt the energy in your post.

    • Love and a little cussing at times. Vic did not love rebuilding cellar walls but we didn’t have the money to hire someone else to do it. None of us like tearing down old walls to open the room size upstairs, but we had a vision and we made it happen–all for the land and the sunset views. It was worth it. Sending blessings for your new home.

  8. Wonderful!

    • Thank you, Luisa. It was our family project inspired by our love of the land. If we could have afforded it, we would have torn the house down and started over, but since we didn’t have the money to do that, the old place was saved and it’s a wonderful home.

  9. I love it, Elaine. Having a mutual project to which you were both fully committed was a magnum opus of partnership. That old house was your alchemical vas, a container that supported and held an ongoing dialogue between opposites. I imagine your interaction taught you both cooperation, commitment, perseverance, trust, self-acceptance, self-reliance and enriched both your outer and inner worlds. How fortunate you both were to have made your home, your family, your lives into a work of art. Even if it is a messy altar it’s an altar! Blessings. Jeanie

    • Your comment was here, Jeanie. This home was the container for the family and both my sons are here this week plus one son’s lover. It’s nice to have another woman in the mix. My family is small, but the gangs all here enjoying the beauty of the Finger Lakes, the restaurants, wineries, lakes, and waterfalls. The weather is perfect but I hope it rains for a few days after they leave since it’s unusually dry. As well as enjoying the beauty, we were able to release 12 Monarchs from my back porch nursery. I loved sharing that wonder with everyone. The messiness is hidden behind closed doors, but I hope a woman who has helped me in the past will motivate and work with me to tidy, recycle, and give away this winter–after the Monarchs leave and I finish a second draft of my book. Blessings to you in NC.

  10. I’ve lived here in mine half as long as you have lived in yours but I can’t bring myself to leave either, despite the deterioration of conditions in this city and rising costs. I waver between staying and wondering if someone will come along who wants to live in the other half of the house to help me keep things going, or let it all go and see where life takes me. There are so many reasons to stay and just as many to leave. So I just do nothing. I’m not sure how long I can keep on. Some external force will cause me to leave but who knows what or when, or where I’ll go. The way forward just isn’t clear.

    • Dear Joe, Surprises happen and new possibilities! If you’d told me my son who lived in California 20 years would move back to the country and buy a place just 3 miles away, I would have howled with laughter, but that’s what happened. This change makes it possible for me to stay here longer. I don’t know what your surprise might be, but I hope you find someone to share your house and meanwhile you keep writing your way through those lists until the right idea clarifies. Hanging on the threshold until clarity comes is a good way to wait for an intuition. Sometimes the right decision comes when we least expect it and in a surprising way. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy your home and live each day with joy. I have faith the right step will appear. Blessings to you.

  11. A wonderful story of connection, love and a determination to keep our roots grounded. May your memories and the love that is all around you may it serve you well for the rest of your life. A wonderful story, thank you.

    • Thank you, Renata. I was strongly influenced by my mother who, for my first 17 years, moved the family every year or two for a “better” place. I wanted to live one place and put down roots and have community. It happened, and even though I’m in the country, I have a strong local community including one of my sons who lives 3 miles away. The sunset views are as beautiful as ever.

  12. Dear Elaine,

    Gosh, the summer seems to be flying by and I find myself delinquent in responding to this post, which I love. The story is both beautifully ordinary and extraordinary, and the photos are a delight! Your telling it in the third person made it read like one of my favorite children’s books, The Quiltmaker’s Gift, which begins:
    “There was once a quiltmaker who kept a house in the blue misty mountains up high… Here and there and wherever the sun warmed the earth, it was said she made the prettiest quilts anyone had ever seen. The blues seemed to come from the deepest part of the ocean, the whites from the northernmost snows, the greens and purples from the abundant wildflowers, the reds, oranges, and pinks from the mot wonderful sunsets.”
    Thank you, Elaine, for sharing your story of saving your farm with your readers.
    With love, Anne

    • Anne, it’s a bumpy flight, but so far more inconveniences in my life than disasters. Oh, I want to see those quilts. In 2 weeks I’m doing a kids and their parents Monarch presentation at the local library. I hope it’s a show more than a tell, but the Monarchs have to cooperate. I think there will be butterflies to release and I know there will be caterpillars, but they work on their on schedule.
      Blessings, Elaine

  13. It makes me happy to think of you doing a presentation/show at the library! Hope we get to see/read a blog entry about this. I will be very surprised if the Monarchs don’t cooperate for Queen Elaine, but one never knows…

    • My friend Lourdes sent me a children’s book with great photos for raising Monarchs. I plan to take milkweed leaves with Monarch eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalises. I think a few butterflies will emerge at the right time, but I can hold a male in a crate for a few days with fruit and flowers to eat if necessary–and I don’t think it will be necessary. I’d like to have the kids experience the joy of watching a Monarch fly. I plan to make this fun for the kids and their parents.

      • Wish I could be there!

        • It’s beautiful this time of year as the evening light changes and the sun moves south on the western horizon. The Celtic Cross-quarters help me notice the details. Sending you Lammas Blessings.

Leave a Reply