Growing up on the farm and living here my entire life is all I've ever wanted. I hope they take me out of here horizontally, just the same as my father. My father was born on this farm in 1913, in a log cabin up on the sand hill just across the creek bottom from our house. His father, my grandfather, was the youngest child of Dutch immigrants and was the only one of his siblings born in America, settling in Wisconsin. When my grandfather married, he and my grandmother bought a 98 acre parcel of woods with the intention of clearing it for farming. They raised a large family, with seven children surviving, and the children were put to work clearing land as soon as they were old enough to swing an ax or grub out a stump.
There are woods dotting our neighborhood here, the closest ones are right across the road from our house and another ten acre woods straight north of us. Neither of these woods ever belonged to us; and they have been sold and resold many times, but still remain the same as they have my entire life, at least so far. The same way I imagine this farm looked when my grandparents bought it. Trees of every shape and size, crowded together, everything from white pine to oak and willow brush. When I look out the window at those woods and think of the work involved in clearing land, I am humbled. All they had were horses, axes, shovels and fires to burn stumps-- and strong backs. The trees from the woods built the barn and my grandparent's house, where my mother still lives today. Sadly, our barn is no longer, but I will remember it always.
My father met my mother when she was 18 and a senior in high school. He was 26. They married two years later. Dad brought my mother out to the farm to live in his parent's house, upstairs from his folks. No running water, no indoor plumbing, a wood-burning stove, and a farm to run. Three years after their marriage, their first son died at birth. Another three years passed, and my brother, Robert, or Bob as we called him, was born. For ten years, before Grandma & Grandpa decided to retire and move away, my parents lived upstairs. When the old folks left, Dad, Mom and my brother moved downstairs.
Thirteen years after Bob was born, I appeared on the scene. I was a shock to everyone...and a pain in the butt for my brother. My father was 45 years old and my mother was 38, I was truly a late in life kid. The neighbors all teased my dad that the milkman must have been involved. Baseless rumors, by the way. Mom had no time for dalliances with anyone as she was a true farmer's wife. Her entire life amazes me, I have gotten her to write down her day to day life in her 'little books' as she calls her diaries. I am encouraging her to write as much about her childhood as she can remember, for it was, I swear, right out of a Dickens novel.
Having a brother thirteen years older than me had it's advantages and disadvantages. He sure didn't want a little kid hanging around with him and his buddy, Harry, so I was shooed away a lot. I grew up on the farm and loved it; the land, the smell of the freshly turned soil and newly cut hay, the cattle, and especially, the tractors. Bob wasn't fond of farming at all and when he turned nineteen he joined the army during the Viet Nam War. He left for basic training when I was six.
My love affair with rocks started at a very young age. When you live on a farm and work the land in the spring in preparation for planting crops, there are always rocks of all shapes and sizes worked up to the surface. These rocks have to be picked up and hauled away in an annual tradition known as, what else? Picking Rocks. To perform this chore, we took a tractor and the three of us, Mom, Dad and I went out to the field. I drove the tractor ahead a few hundred yards, then would climb off and pick the rocks in front of the tractor while Mom and Dad took the left and right side of the wagon respectively. When we had all the rocks in a radius around the wagon picked up, then I would move the tractor ahead and we'd repeat the process. It's hard work and most farmers are not fond of it. But I was.
After we were done picking up all the rocks, we would go to our rock pile on our side of the fenceline up by the neighbor's woods and unceremoniously toss the gathered stones on the pile which grew larger every year. Some of our neighbors shared rock piles on adjoining line fences and there is one near here which is very large. Being basically an only kid, I would spend hours playing on our rock pile, sorting through them, amazed at their colors and stripes and shiny specks. I brought so many collectible rocks to put on my dresser in my bedroom that Mom had a fit when she saw the dresser was starting to sag. After that, I had to keep my collection outside.
My brother and I didn't enjoy much camaraderie with such a big age difference between us. I was a pest and tattled on him every chance I got, such a naughty brat. Before he left home, though, my brother would occasionally go to an abandoned quarry about two miles from here to swim with his friends after chores. Sometimes he would take me along, and those times remain as my favorite memory. He would be swimming with his buddies, having a good time, and I would be wandering around the quarry, marveling at the stone formations, looking for Fool's Gold and feeling like I was on another planet.
The part of the county we live in is very flat, but the quarry was exotic, with hills and deep water-filled ponds leftover from excavation. In retrospect, no, it's not a very safe place for a small kid to be running around in, and today, that same quarry is posted and off-limits to everyone, but back in the early 60's when lawsuits weren't so prevalent, it was the place to go for many folks. Every time I drive by that quarry, I have to fight the desire to trespass, but I've been good, and haven't been there since I was around ten years old. I'd love to see it again someday. I'm sure it would look a lot smaller now, but back then, to my child's eyes, it was enormous.
Carl's experience with rocks was entirely different. He did not grow up on a farm and being a blacksmith's son there was no rock picking for him. But his uncle had a stone quarry about two miles from Carl's house and he spent a lot of time there as a young boy. Thinking back on it, Carl and I lived less than a mile apart our entire childhoods and both of us spent time in quarries less than four miles apart, what a coincidence. When we were dating, Carl took me over to his uncle's quarry and we had a good time exploring it. I never did get a chance to take Carl to 'my' quarry though. Eventually, Carl's uncle sold his quarry and it is now owned by a much bigger sand and gravel company and is growing larger every year. And, of course, it is off limits to the public.
As I mentioned in the earlier part of this saga, we married in 1978, built the house in the alfalfa field and all was well. Carl and I were both working full-time and didn't have many spare hours in the day to do much outside of build our garage the following summer. We did have a small vegetable garden out back the first few years. My mother decided we needed a few flowers around the place, so she planted some annuals and perennials for me while I was at work.
I don't know if it's common practice in all parts of the country, but around here, entrepreneurial aerial photographers will fly over people's homes and farms and then eventually show up at your door with the photos they took of your property and try to sell you one. The picture below was taken in 1981...we didn't buy an enlargement 'suitable for framing' but we did buy his proof photo for around $5.
The blue line I drew in on this photo shows the original one acre we started out with. A few years later, Dad sold us another L-shaped acre to expand our land on the north and west side. Dad actually baled our lawn for hay for the cows the first two years we lived here since he didn't want to see it go to waste. I didn't mind, as an acre was pretty big to mow with a 19" push mower.
I worked outside the home for an insurance company for ten years, we dabbled in flowers around the house, but not much really. Our lives changed dramatically for the better in 1986 when Joel was born. I became a stay-at-home mom and really loved every minute of it. When Joel was around two years old, we became very interested in gardening.
The first thing we did was put in a little round flower bed at right around the same time we decided to plant the trees Carl's folks had so generously donated to our treeless cause. In the picture below you can see part of the alfalfa field and little wooden shingles propped up to protect the teeny, tiny spruce trees from the harsh sun. In the foreground is my round bed......oh, dear, complete with white marble chips, black plastic edging, a rock from the rock pile and four evenly spaced hybrid tea roses with what I believe are tulips planted in a circle around the septic tank vent. To say I was a 'little' landscaped-challenged may be putting it mildly.
In 1982, we decided to build the gazebo. There I am, perched up on the roof.
What a difference 30 years makes.
We loved to go on little day trips and for years, we had gone to a local botanical garden just to stroll around. Contained in a lovely, English-inspired landscape was a beautiful, rectangular sunken garden with flat stacked limestone walls, it was so lovely. Carl decided this was something we could do at home. I wasn't so sure, but I did have all those rocks lying around from my collection and our farm rock pile, so....ok, let's give it a try. We dug a hole in the back corner of our lot and, using Dad's tractor, we were able to form a lower- level garden.
|The Formal Garden before its many renovations, 1988|
My father did, though! "What in the world are you doing bringing all that stone home? I've been trying for years to clear this land and you haul it back?"
I assured him it wasn't something I was doing to torture him, and he grudgingly gave in. A little. In the picture below is a trowel to show the size of the granite rocks we hauled in from the neighbors.
At the time, we called this the Rock Garden, for obvious reasons. It would be another few years before I discovered rock gardens weren't merely flower beds ringed by rocks, but something else entirely different. We changed this garden so many times, and finally, even the name, to the Formal Garden, after we decided to build the dome to give it more, well, structure, I guess. Carl painstakingly cut stones to fit for pathways in the garden, but try as we might, we could not keep the weeds out, so we eventually gave up and ripped the stone paths out.
For a time, we had a small pond in the middle, but that turned out to be a maintenance headache, too, so out it went. That's when we finally decided to build a copper dome to dress the garden up a bit. Where the birdbath is sitting in the 1988 picture, the dome is now.
Formal Garden 2010
The River Bed was another addition we added sometime before the Formal Garden, around 1987. We love to canoe and the sinuous curves of this bed always reminded us of a river. Joel was just a baby, sleeping in his stroller outside while we worked on tearing up the lawn to put this garden in. I think of all the flower beds I have, the River Bed is one of my favorites. I can change it to any color I want every year.
In 1987, Carl built the pan fountain out of upside down lampshades. We had seen a three-tiered fountain created by an artist in ceramics, and it was gorgeous, with leaves imprinted in each tier and I loved it the minute I laid eyes on it. The problem was, as always, the price, which was over $3000. Carl used the aluminum lampshade reflectors from an old high school gymnasium and built stands for them to rest on. The basin the last pan empties into is the old well base from my parent's pumphouse. The fountain runs off of a recirculating pump located in the basin.
In late June of 1990, David was born. We had a pretty quiet summer that year. Mostly we tended our little bundle of joy, David, and the newly planted trees on our newly acquired acre which you can see here in yet another aerial photograph taken in 1989. The big, swooping curve was Carl's idea to make the trees have a more natural look to them instead of being planted in straight lines. The trees on the right side of the photo are hybrid poplars, which grew at an amazing rate. We had over 500 spruce trees of various types planted by this time.
The barn was finished in the fall of 1996 and was a big help to my need for organization. I always need help with organization, and haven't mastered it yet.
Sometime in 1999, we decided to put in a pond. It was a lot of work, we dug the entire thing by hand and it took most of the summer. Joel was 13 at the time and indispensable with this work. Carl also built the bridge that went over the pond, too. It's rather hard to see in the picture below, taken in 2000.
Carl thought the little pond was ok, but he had bigger ideas. He wondered what it would be like to build a much bigger pond in our yard.
Me, being the pessimist in this marriage, said, "Ok, but how are you going to do it?"
Optimist Carl said, "Oh, you let me worry about that."
In 2001, my father passed away. If Dad would have seen what we came up with next, and the amount of rocks soon to be hauled in to his farm, he would have thrown a tantrum.
Stay tuned for the Quarry Garden and How That Started.