Writer’s Note: This is the first article in the Farm Stories Collection and serves as an introduction if you would for a series of writings and photographs recounting my time spent living along a rural tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.
Fortunately, for the sake of the above noted subject matter, it was also a time when both writing and photography had first established themselves as a creative outlet in my life, which in those days brought a certain sense of balance between the rigors of existing as a corporate drone and a need for individual expression. Recently I came across a group of old photographs and writing journals of mine which have rekindled memories of a rural lifestyle that served as an artistic source of inspiration and so much more indeed.
It All Began With A Question
I clearly remember that day, yes the one when my life would change in a way that I could hardly imagine at the time. Walking through the sterile ambiance of a hallway, adorned with an occasional picture of a flower or something soothing like that, at my then employer’s office I was focused on the progress of an ongoing project. That is until I heard someone call out “hey Glenn you got a minute?” Turning in the direction of a nearby open office door I could see that it was Doug who was calling me.
Stepping inside the doorway I saw that he was already back sitting back in the chair with his shoes, sans socks, up on the desk. It is worth noting that Doug was an avid runner doing so just about every work day in lieu of lunch, also in the evenings and the weekends as well. Doug was the consummate laid back kind of guy. Sporting a thick black beard along with a short shag like hair style he often dressed in clothing that hung loosely over his lean well toned athletic frame. Even his speech mannerisms consisted of those of a friendly well spoken country gentleman with a bit of a drawl.
Doug was a member of another IT development team at our company and over time we both had become acquainted with each other via a group of fellow programmers who could be labeled as liberal art techies of the era. My final take on Doug was that as a runner he trained hard and seemed to relish the solitude of his long runs in the country. As a computer programmer he was one who worked to live, in his own laid back lifestyle that is, and not living to work as many do today.
In Doug’s laid back manner he posed the following question to me “hey bud do you want to live on a big farm in the country?” While I do not remember my exact response from back then though I’m sure it was something along the line of sure! What I do know is that I didn’t miss a beat in answering him. To this day I still wonder why I responded so quickly to Doug’s question since I was perfectly happy where I was living at that time.
Enjoying Life In The City
I had been living in my apartment since having accepted a position with a local corporation about a year prior to my encounter with Doug and thrived on the neighborhood’s bohemian like vibe as well as the city’s historical pedigree.
The neighborhood streets were lined with historic town homes - a number of which having been converted into apartments, and grand mansion style residences with well maintained lawns enclosed by black wrought iron fences that ran along the sidewalks. There were wide boulevard like avenues featuring mature trees, fountains and statues that tied in nicely with the nearby parks as well as museums. Cross streets were the venues for bars, restaurants, shops, design studios, galleries, and just about every type of commercial venture that a resident would ever need. Even the university where I took the occasional class was located 10 or so blocks away — a nice walk especially in the Spring. All of this meant for me that on Friday evening I could park my car and never have to use it again until returning to work on Monday morning. I walked everywhere and it was great place to live.
The people in the district came from all walks of life including college students, artists of almost every discipline, chefs, tradesmen even morticians as well as older residents who had lived their entire lives in the neighborhood. Musicians? Yes there were a number of them living in the nearby buildings and through my open apartment windows I could often hear the sounds of cellos, guitars, flutes, saxophones, and even bagpipes drifting about on the evening breezes.
Questions, Directions & A Bit Of Background
Where was I in this story anyway? Oh yes Doug’s office, so in response to my answer to his question he said great the farm is located out where Linda, his wife, and I live so the next time that he ‘runs’ into the guy who owns it - I assumed then that Doug and the farm owner were fellow runners, he would tell him that I was interested in living there.
A few days later Doug stopped by my office and said things were set and that the owner had told him that I should come out to the farm to look at the apartment and then get back to him with my answer, the door to it would be unlocked. I asked if anyone was currently living there and he said no that a State Trooper had been until recently but was reassigned to a barracks in another part of the state so the apartment was vacant.
Asking Doug for the directions to the farm and the owner’s phone number I found myself wanting to learn more about what seemed to be this rural nirvana that we have been speaking about of late. I asked him if he knew anything about the farm or the house itself. He said the apartment rents for $300 a month plus electric but that I would have the full run of the house. There was a young couple that live in the Farm manager’s house on the property he added, the farm itself is about a 1,000 acres — half in trees and the other half in crops taken care of by a local farmer, and the only thing I have to do as a tenant was to shoo trespassers off the property whenever the occasion arises. Then he said that the trooper had been living in the basement of the house, more on that in a future story, and was pretty sure that it was heated with wood since the upstairs rooms only had fireplaces as well as no plumbing.
What Do Bean Fields Look Like?
Heated with wood I kept thinking to myself while driving on one of the rural roads leading to the farm the next afternoon. After having turned off the main state route, about five miles north from where I worked, Doug’s directions instructed me to follow the road until it came to a Y like intersection, at which point I was to bear to the left. Then follow that road for a few miles or so until I saw an old country store with gas pumps out front but to turn left just before the store and then take the second right. Finally I was to follow that road until it ends at a stop sign where I would then be able to see the front fields of the farm directly in front me.
Doug had also pointed out when giving me the directions to the farm that he believed that the front fields were “currently in beans.” Beans? What kind of beans and what do they look like I thought upon hearing this? Green beans? Well in short order I would come to know exactly what kind of beans that Doug meant along with the knowledge that there are different seasons for those particular type of beans — one’s harvested in October, and late beans harvested around Thanksgiving.
Turn At The Sign Of The Cow Then Follow The Dirt Gravel Road
As I came up on that final stop sign in my directions sure enough there in front of me was this huge expanse of farm fields, perhaps larger than any I had ever seen or possibly noticed before — I know I have never lived in the Midwest. I caught sight of a gravel and dirt road that seemed to be splitting the bean field in half. At the entrance to it were two black metal rural mailboxes on posts along with a tall wood pole across from them with what I referred to at the time a metal cow set on top of it. The name of the farm was displayed beneath the cow and I felt good to have at least found the farm without hearing any banjo music.
Proceeding on to the farm I saw acres upon acres of trees to the far right side of one field, directly in front of me about a quarter of a mile ahead was a faded looking red barn - actually the dairy kind I later learned, and one that I would eventually experience first hand in a future medical emergency.
On my far left I could make out a good sized white house that was getting larger as I drove directly towards it especially after having followed the sharp left bend in the road about halfway up it. Even though I was hundreds of yards away from the house at that time I could see a huge tree set on the right side of the front lawn with branches that were at least 40 feet in length.
Overwhelmed By My Surroundings
I soon found myself in front of that large white house where I had stopped in order to take a closer look at it. The structure itself was made up of two distinct segments one built of brick and the other of wood. Both were two storeys in height and each of them were topped with a black shingled roof pitched so high they surely could have served as third floor living areas.
A large square front porch was attached to the wooden segment of the house and appeared to serve as its main entranceway. Directly to the right side of the porch was a 6' by 10' first floor front window that surely must have commanding views of the bean fields and a lot more I thought to myself. There was an abundance of architectural details just on the house itself that 10 paragraphs of descriptive writing would not do it justice, it was simply overwhelming to try to take all of it in at one time.
It quickly became apparent that there was a lot more of this house to see just from the outside of it. I then felt the need to change perspectives so I began to look around only to find myself captivated by such a broad expanse of landscapes set in any direction that I found myself facing in. Clearly there were at least 3 more roads crisscrossing their way through the farm, three silos — two in a nearby barnyard and another one set out in front of a far off treeline. Then there was yet another barn — not a dairy one, a horse stable and what I believed to be a chicken coop. It was an incredible sight for this city boy to be taking in at that moment I remember now.
However I was there to check out the basement apartment so I turned off the car and walked over to the side entranceway that I had been instructed to use in order to gain access to the house. I have to add though that as I made my way to the entrance of the basement the brick chimney that stood next to it must have been 50+ feet high! I was stunned by the sight of it.
Even while standing in front of the screen door leading to the basement I couldn’t stop from noticing even more nearby farm buildings as well as other planted fields out in the distance. I caught sight of a good size pond out behind what I would later learn to refer to as the “country kitchen” which would certainly make for a great artist studio I remember thinking.
Its Commonly Referred To As An English Basement
Finally I got my house hunting focus back and made my way down the concrete steps to the basement door and sure enough the handle was unlocked. Stepping inside I could see that it was laid out much like a large efficiency apartment. There was a front living area with a black cast iron wood stove - thoughts of how much wood that I would need in order to keep warm in the Winter immediately came back to mind.
The entire floor itself was covered in a brick colored patterned linoleum covering. On the right hand side was an open kitchen with cabinets, sink and a counter top minus any appliances. About two thirds of the way back on the left side of room was a partially extended wall that must have been used to delineate the sleeping area. Finally there was a small room in the far back right corner that contained a full bathroom including a shower enclosure.
Along the full length of both side walls were large double hung windows set just above the outside ground level that faced both east and west allowing for a fair amount of light to enter the room throughout the day. A stairway leading up to the first floor of the house was located to the side of the bathroom and next to it was a door for entering into the basement area of the brick section of the house.
Standing there in that open room I wondered whether I would actually enjoy living in a place such as this? Should I explore the rest of the house even though Doug had said that the Trooper only lived in the basement? What’s on the other side of that basement door and what about that wood stove? I was no lumber jack by any stretch of the imagination to be cutting enough wood to keep in burning.
Once again I found myself a bit overwhelmed by it all but this time it was due to my interior surroundings. I wasn’t feeling claustrophobic by any means but found myself needing to get out of the basement so as to better collect my thoughts about whether I wanted to live here or not.
More Curiosity And My Decision Was Made
Once again I was standing outside of the main house when I caught sight of a very old looking brick two storey building set out across the side yard about 150 feet away and I became extremely curious about what exactly that it was. As I approached the structure I saw that indeed it was a very old building, two hundred years at least. For a moment I thought about going inside of it since it appeared that the door was unlocked, like everything else there on the farm, but I did not turning instead to take a look at the dairy barn where I could now see just how large it actually was.
With the sun starting to set over the nearby mill pond I once again placed my sense of curiosity in check and began walking towards the car. As I drove down the drive towards the main road I realized that I had already made my mind up about two things. Yes I really can see myself living on this farm and second that I had better learn how to cut wood and fast for Fall was but a few months away.
The next day I called the owner and told him that I would like to rent the house. A new chapter in my life was about to begin.
G J Gibson
Note: this article is also available on Medium
Gallery Note: currently the photographs featured on this post are not included in the main gallery
Images and Article Copyright ©2014 G J Gibson Photography LLC