I have often heard that when a loved one is dying that they sometimes need permission from their loved ones before they breathe their last. Even if they are ready to go, they seem to sense when family members are not yet able to release them. I had this crazy idea that our family farm, Cloudwood, needed my permission before it could go to another owner, so I wrote a letter. It sold the next week. It is significant that our last holiday to celebrate there was Thanksgiving, because we are all ever so thankful for the 40+ years of joy this property has brought our family and friends. We all put on our best brave smiles today and tried to hold back the tears. We were mostly successful, until the final goodbyes. We lost a family member whose lifeblood flows in our veins, and just as with any grief, the sense of loss is tremendous but the memories are sweet. We spent the day reminiscing and picture taking to capture one last family celebration upon the mountain we have loved since the moment we stepped foot upon it. In the end, no one wanted to leave, and the last gaze of the view as we drove down the driveway brought the ugly cries up and out. Weeping for our loved one and all that we will miss, but as with all loss, we know that the price of love is pain. Great pain, means we have been blessed with great love.
Dear Cloudwood Farm,
I have managed to avoid writing this letter for some time now, but it feels as if the tide is shifting and the final goodbye is eminent. There are some things I need to say before that day arrives.
I remember when you first came into our family. I was 6 years old, and mom stood at a pay phone for what seemed an eternity, because dad called and said, “I bought a mountain.” From the moment he drove up the driveway, you had whispered to him that this was the place he had been looking for. It didn’t matter that mom and the kids were out of town, he knew and so he took the leap. When we returned home, he brought us to see you and we were instantly enamored with your beauty. The old farm house had such charm, and a rich history to boot. Of course as a 6-year-old, I didn’t care about such things. I was more interested in the tree swing, the castle of rhododendron bushes, the donut shrub in the front yard, the pond in the pasture and the endless supply of trees to climb.
In no time at all you became our family respite. You were our escape from city life. During the week we went 90 to nothing, but on the weekends you welcomed us with open arms. I remember putting together jigsaw puzzles with Pop, knitting (or trying to) with Betty, and cooking with Memommie. I remember the little half room upstairs and how I thought it was unfair my little sister got to have it. I remember being scared of the attic room, and feeling warm and snug in front of the fireplace. I remember the creaky wooden floors that squeaked and groaned under our feet. I remember the old antique pie safe that held all our homemade wooden toys. I remember there was a bag of birdseed in the basement.
I also remember the night we got the call that the house burned to the ground. I remember the tears as mom and dad left the city to find nothing left of our mountain place. They told us that it was important to remember things from the house…to tell them everything we could think of. That is why my memory of that old house is still so vivid after nearly 50 years. But you may have noticed that none of those memories include stuff. They are all of people and feelings of the place, not the items within it. I don’t know that remembering my wooden toys and a bag of birdseed was much help in the rebuilding process, but I am glad I thought so long and hard, because now I can still pull up the images in my mind.
After the fire, we stayed in your caretaker’s house at the bottom of the hill. We still came to see you often as we dug through the rubble from the house trying to salvage any piece of history we could. To this day I think I love scavenger hunts because of those post-fire weekends. Melinda and I found items and created a fire museum in the Rhododendron bushes. Old skeleton keys, pieces of dishes, old timey irons, we laid them out on big rocks as a memorial to the house. It was our childlike way of processing the loss.
Though the house was gone, your land was abundant in its welcome of us. You were always so generous with your caring. We made trails through the woods. Dad and I logged all the wildflowers I could find, in my journal…which I still have by the way. We gathered bird nests, only once they were unoccupied of course, for a collection, along with rocks of all shapes and sizes. There were always adventures to be had and treasures to be found. Thank you for that.
Once the new house was built, the fun continued. By this time, we were old enough to bring our friends along in large and small numbers. We played for hours in the little storage closets in the dormers, creating a play house club. One for the girls’side and the other for the boys…who were always harassing us. And oh, the winters! Everyone else runs from the snow and we run to it…creating snow angels, and snowball fights by the hundreds on your hills and pastures. The gathering of all manner of children to sled with their dads on the driveway, and warm their frozen fingers and toes by the fire. Warm cocoa, hot cider were always at the ready and the marshmallow jar by the fire with sticks for roasting, was as much a part of the hearth as the log poker.
In the summer, the nearby rivers made creek-walking adventures, swimming holes, and fishing spots. Super Jeep took us on the highways and byways of all the surrounding area, and a few off-the-beaten-path places. We rafted the waters of nearby rivers. We trail rode the horses through your forests, beside your bubbling brooks, through the apple trees, and round and round the house. Friends by the bus load arrived at your wonderland to discover that nature is not at all silent, and that God is closer in the mountains. There was a spiritual connection to him there, on the front porch. The stars overhead inspired so many young minds and hearts to look towards the creator. Your creator. And ours. Maybe that is what joined us so. Our common creator, who formed us, it seems, to enjoy one another so as to bring him pleasure. The rocks and hills and trees will cry out in worship if we do not…and you knew that verse well, because you were always crying out.
Our own children were the next generation to hear your songs of worship. They found the love of family on your mountain top. Falling stars left them in awe…and we smiled at your ability to capture them as well as you had us. Football in the front yard joined cousins’ hearts, as did sledding on bright orange disks that gave them the ability to fly. The Grandkid Olympics each January 1st, was a time for mom and dad to combine their love of place with their love of the next generation…making memories that will last a lifetime. Being together, with you and each other was a marvelous mystery that was passed from generation to generation. A legacy. Scavenger hunts to the pasture brought forth your hidden treasures that ended up in bedrooms and on walls to remind them of their time with you. The reading tree became a symbol of all that you represented to them. A place to put down roots, while still reaching for the sky. A place of quiet in the midst of a world of noise. A place to explore other worlds through words, all from the safety of home. Home in the deepest sense of the word. Home is where the family is, as well as the heart. The connection and the love of the land is what made all of that possible.
I love you Cloudwood. It is hard for me to imagine you not being a part of our family. In reality, it is not possible. You will always be with us in heart and spirit, and we with you. I release you now, to spread your enchantment to others who need to connect with their creator through you. Call the ones who are next in your never ending family. Continue to sing your worship song and cry out your praises. We will hear it. We will love you always and will never forget the sacred place that God used to fuse our hearts to his.
(The star gazing, mountain climbing, tree loving, tomboy of a girl who became who she is because of you.)