One of the particular joys of this spring has been the return of visitors. Over the past month a steady flow of grandparents has passed through the farm, and as I write this my friend Mark has come to stay for a while. We all have our peculiarities, and one of Mark’s is that he hasn’t been in a car for about a decade, meaning to get here he had to spend a couple weeks walking here from Lancaster, PA.
Mark assures me that the experience not just of travelling between places but of what a particular town or city is changes to a remarkable extent when approached on foot rather than by car. While I’m not prepared to rearrange my life to experience this phenomenon for myself, one of the many things I enjoy about talking with Mark is that our conversations often prompt me to see the place I live with new eyes.
I live in central new York, quite literally - look at a map of New York, and Cairncrest Farm is pretty darn close to the middle. And I don’t often stray too far. I rarely go past Utica, thirty minutes north, Oneonta, forty minutes south, or Gloversville, about an hour east. For reasons that I don’t well understand I almost never travel west in the normal course of my life. The land here is a blend of pasture, field and forest, laced with streams and roads, by which old dairy barns are slowly falling into disrepair.
A few days ago I headed farther afield, up north to pick up some sausage from the new butcher. I’ve driven past Utica a few times, but I was struck anew by the difference of the landscape. The road I took skirted the edge of the Adirondack Park, and though it lacked the rounded hills of home, it nevertheless had a distinctly a mountainous feel, with forests of mostly conifers and yellow, rocky soil. I spotted several snowmobile and outdoor outfitters, and relatively few farms, though I did pass one giant dairy that looked like it held several thousand cows.
I was back on the farm the same morning I’d left, carrying a collage of impressions but no real knowledge of the places I’d passed through. I had flickering memories of pines and hemlocks and gas stations and occasional clumps of houses blurring by, punctuated by more distinct images of a brook tumbling down a rocky cascade, a quarry notched deep into a ridge of stone, and the place where the road passed by the bend of a deep, slow river.
There are still things to learn about my farm. Just this spring I have discovered (actually, the kids discovered and told me about) a pool in the small stream as deep as my waist. I’d seen it plenty of times, but I’d never bothered to explore it, though it is barely a hundred yards from my front door. It’s just one example of the endlessness of a place; I look and there is always more to see, no matter how familiar the view, details of the land and weather and the fauna that have changed or that I’ve simply failed to notice.
I find it strange to think that all the blurry miles I drove through would resolve to places every bit as distinctly real as the stream below my house if I could be bothered to take the time to stop and look. Or perhaps more than look - perhaps I would need to live and work and raise a family somewhere if I wished to really comprehend it.
It is humbling to realize how little I know well, the unseen worlds that lie within an hour’s drive of my front door. Yet this does not bother me in the least. There is a vivifying energy in limitation, and it is much preferable to always have something new to find than to think I’ve found it all.