Thursday, August 02, 2012
When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, I spent a lot of time with my brother, sisters, and cousins at my grandmother's farm in central Wisconsin. At the time it was better than any trip to a park, museum, or zoo. There was always something fun and thrilling to do there and it was usually educational in one facet or another. There were old tractors and other dilapidated farm machinery to investigate, a huge haymow in the barn where we made forts, a milk house that was also storage for back issues of Popular Mechanics and old electronic gear. Naturally, there was the usual variety of animals one finds on a small Midwestern farm. It's where I first witnessed the birth of any living creature. We swung on a round swing suspended by a rope from the big pines in the backyard, ate raw vegetables right out of the garden, collected apples at the orchard, and explored the woods at the far end of the cattle pasture. It was at the farm I saw my first Killdeer, Eastern Kingbird, Barn Swallow, and Eastern Bluebird.
My Uncle Bill took over the farm after my grandfather passed away in 1970. As free labor, we were recruited for all kinds of farming duties. It was hard work, but we loved doing it because it made us feel like grownups. We were rewarded in other ways, though. By noontime our stomachs would be begin to growl and we would sprint across the field when grandma called us all in for lunch. After a delicious farm-cooked meal, we listened to Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story on the radio and enjoyed Uncle Bill's earnest cackling laugh whenever he found something humorous. We were too young to fully appreciate Mr. Harvey's monologues, but we laughed along because we were kids.
After listening to the radio, sometimes the adults would continue to share a conversation. The rest of us paged through some of my uncle's science and nature books or played grandma's piano. Other times all of us would head back out to the fields and gardens to play or work. I don't think I ever slept quite as well anywhere else in the world as I did during nights on the farm. Everything about life there was big, beautiful, and innocent. The farm was sold after my uncle passed away. The big pines behind the house were cut down. Along with the other farm structures, the house and barn were torn down and the entire property was eventually replaced with an agricultural field. I can find the spot along the highway on Google Earth, but the evidence of what gave us these enjoyable experiences and memories is utterly gone. There's no trace that it ever existed.
The experience of being on a farm at a young and impressionable age probably explains the attraction I hold today for Pope Farm Conservancy in the Town of Middleton. There's something about its scenery, sounds, and smells that takes me back decades to a time of innocent and carefree living. Oh how things have changed! For me, it doesn't really matter if it's Pope Farm, Pheasant Branch, or someplace else outdoors away from the TV or computer screen; being with Nature is the antidote to all that ails the world right now. No matter our hubris and technology, she will most assuredly take it back someday, leaving no trace that we ever existed. Is this really such a terrible fate? Some days I don't think so. Some days I think that's perfectly natural.
© 2012 Mike McDowell