Winter Farmland Reverie
The well-crafted 1857 Pennsylvania German home on a remnant acre of Upper Bucks County farmland called to us at the end of our first decade of suburban married life. We were in our enthusiastic forties, and I wasn’t a stranger to country life and property care. My husband, although he was raised in the city accepted the prospect with surprising zeal. We would address the needs of our Victorian farmhouse gradually and gently, respectful of its charm, simplicity, and historical details, without remodeling.
One morning when ice and snow encased the valley, I pulled on layers of wool and down, laced up my boots, and emerged from our mudroom into a sunny crystalline world, and crunched out to the red barn. The builder and earliest owner, Mr. Henry Trumbauer, was the Justice of the Peace, a tanner by trade, and farmer, and he operated the post office and general store across the road. We used the barn fully, though for different purposes than he. He had boarded laborers in the sunny room at the top of the rustic steps, and lofted hay on the north side. I harvested cut flowers from my gardens and hung them to dry along the massive chestnut beams.
Below stairs, Mr. T. had kept his milk cow, a horse or two, and a pleasure carriage. Primitive shelves were fixed to the walls, and bridles and tools hung from hooks and nails in the stalls. I operated a landscape gardening business, and my tools and our home garden equipment were kept in the barn.
There we stacked alfalfa bales for our three dwarf goats and stored their feed, the chickens’ feed, and bedding chips. That morning, the goats were still nestled inside, cozy and dry in their wood-framed pen, sheltered against the north wind. I unlatched and lifted the hatch doors, and they stretched and clopped up the little ramp into the bright air of their fenced yard.
Beyond our property line, where corn and wheat were once cultivated, grass fields and copses of scrub oak, wild dogwood, juniper, crabapple, wild rose, mulberry, and sprawling, prickly tangles of pink-berried, silver-leaved autumn olive had sprung up over the years. Where plow and mower avoided rocky, soppy ground, wild islands grew providing ample perches and fruits. Bluejays scolded, cardinals flashed, chickadees chittered, nuthatches screeched, and finches flitted and swayed on frost-weakened twigs.
I wound around the old field following the track of deer hooves. They’d sheltered in a thicket blanketed with heavy snow. The air was heavy with their musk and steamy breath. An old fallen mulberry tree was my seat to muse and meditate, my breath was frosty in the snow-muffled enclosure.
Pioneers had traded wares and methods with the nomadic Leni Lenape. These grounds were a camp. The cold spring had long since drained and desiccated, but a deep, sweet well still fed our taps. Their native soil and small gardens, their gathering and hunting grounds could not be shared. Foreign farms grew and spread. Snow-laden branches framed the remnants: a collapsed corn bin. An antique tractor stuck in the mud and left to rust, its hide leather seat ripped, its steering wheel, a peace sign.
From my vantage on the fallen mulberry, I saw the crumbled fieldstone wall that divided one parcel from the next. Our neighbor’s dilapidated bank barn had been neglected too many winters — roof slates not replaced, footings left unshored, walnut board siding too long weathered and left to disrepair. Its mass might have otherwise withstood the weight of Bucks County winters. A lithe, white ferret peaked out from the rubble and disappeared in the snow field, mice to hunt. All is not lost when nature finds a way. I lingered in the private depth, perhaps the last of a millennium. Would the backhoe and builder be next? Winter grasses nodded, and the breeze tingled my face. Light snowflakes drifted like my thoughts.
I wish you peace and love in 2024!
Thanks so much for reading Roots and Branches and Memoir-ish Musings! Please consider subscribing to receive new posts and support my work.