Returning to my wife Ellie’s family farmstead always feels like a pilgrimage.
It’s beautiful, to any eye; but singularly precious in how our family sees it.
The 1797 house sits in a hollow among rolling ridges, home to dairy farms, wild turkeys, prosperous weekending city folk and commuters to busier places, and to folks working hard out on the edge. It is home to far more cattle than people.
Coppery waters, streaked with silver, flow through it, racing or wandering to the Mohawk. Its roads, now, are in full flow also, with roaring trucks large and small carrying silage and cut corn from fields stripped to stubs, revealing wooded hills the tall stalks masked all summer.
The farms here are growing, consolidating, like every business.
As the bigger ones get bigger, some smaller, faded ones find new life and energy in the busy hands of Amish families. They hang laundry on long lines from homes grown younger through repairs and paint, long deferred. They work wide fields with horse teams; their teenage boys race the roads in stripped down sulkies. They auction fruits, flowers and vegetables in a vast wide-roofed building where restaurateurs feed their menus, bidding quietly as a barker amplifies his offers in staccato shouts.
Ellie and I married on the lawn before that house, so did her brother Mark; her sister Trish married in the ca. 1835 church down the road; Nick Brignola’s jazz quartet played the reception, in the barn. Our daughter Pisie married in the same church, just before the plague changed everything.
One of the comforts of being here is the sense that some things have not changed much at all.
Farming has become more technological, though probably no less back-breaking. A retired teacher tutors the children of workers in a home that was old before they came here and the farm where they work grew to more than 1,000 cows.
My in-laws – maybe the greatest ever in that much maligned function – lie under a stone engraved with their names and dates, on a now-wooded hill overlooking the house.
Our son Zak watched the early-in-every-visit ritual when my father-in-law invited, “Would you have a scotch?” I would, and we would then enjoy the best conversation of that visit. Zak learned to drink scotch just for that, seeking that feeling of sitting down together and talking.
And we do.
The Nowadaga Creek runs behind the house, behind the barn. And last week, I placed there some ashes of my late and very great friend Greg Haymes. When his wife Sara gave me a slim, black paper packet of him, I knew there was only one place for him.
In this place.