I always feel very peaceful when I come back from my friend Caroline's house. Peaceful and wistful. I always pictured myself living at such a place as Milne Farm. I'm not unhappy where I am. In reality I love to be in the middle of things. I love to hop in the car and be anywhere in 10 minutes. I love to have friends drop by on their way to Walmart. But there is this heritage I am missing, this 120 years or so of Cummins farmers. Tractors chug in my veins. I miss the smells of barn, rootstock cellar, hot tractor.
When I was a girl, we were always working on trees. Weekends in the greenhouse, my father had us digging in dirt or recording data. My father (cool glasses, I know) spent much of his life breeding fruit tree rootstocks and researching fruit tree virus effects. Before that part of his life (and before me) he owned Cummins Shawnee Orchards in Cobden, Illinois. This was the childhood of my three oldest brothers, who drove tractors before kindergarten. We didn't have our own orchards when I was growing up, but my father was a research scientist for Cornell University's NY State Agricultural Experiment Station; thus, we had access to acres of fruit trees and berries. My oldest brother began Littletree Orchards in the early 1970s, so we spent weekends helping him get started: sprinkling deer repellent into bundles of cheesecloth, tying bands on buds recently grafted, weeding, mowing, planting. Winter evenings, my father would bring home envelopes of apple seeds to count. Always on the counter were tiny green apples with numbers written on them in Sharpie. Springtime brought pollen counting and afternoons under the apple blossoms. It was a good life. Boring sometimes when Mom and Dad were wrapped up in data collecting and the day turned hot, but then there were the picnics in the wildflower-laden woods and my mother exclaiming over trillium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Solomon's Seal, Wake Robin.
I thought I would live in a big white house in the country, where the kids could spend their days playing in a creek and building tunnels in the hayloft. I thought I'd can and make jam and stack wood for the winter. I thought I'd wear an apron. Richard Bach's book One explores the possibilities of those "other" lives: the "what-if" we had gone this direction....or bought this house...or taken this job instead of that one... What if we lived in a big white house in the country instead of a cozy brick house with a distant view of the mountains? Someday, maybe, there will be a time for apple trees and tractors. For now, I'm happy right where I am. But I sure am glad I have a friend with a big farmhouse in the country.