I grew up in the in the middle of farm country in extreme Southeast Michigan, where you could see for miles. I know people who live in the mountains probably think the landscape here in the flatlands is terribly boring. I find it poetic. The way that the clouds and crops dance in unison. The way the air smells at harvest-time. I can still hear the distant trains sounding their horns at night.
The country is where you can find peace and quiet – stillness. The hustle and bustle of traffic is a distant memory when you are enveloped in the softness of the country. It’s forgiving there and it will always be home to me. I’m lucky that I can still go back to the house that I grew up in – escape back to my childhood, if even for a moment.
In order to understand WHY I have a connection to nature and the outdoors, you have to understand HOW it came to be. Living in the “middle of nowhere”, you didn’t have friends nearby. There was never a knock on our door to see if I could come out to play; Brother Bear was 9 years older than me, so our interests were vastly different; and playdates were unheard of in the late 80’s. This meant that I was left to my own devices to create my own fun.
Although we didn’t have an official “farm”, we were surrounded by farmland and had a variety of animals. The animals were my best friends. We had a goat named Muffin that I adored. He shared a stall with Brother Bear’s pony, Turkey. Muffin ate the majority of the hair off of Turkey’s tail one year; we had to separate them after that. (As a backstory, this pony was an old fella and he was my brother’s from when he was preschool aged. When Brother Bear was little, he couldn’t say the pony’s actual name: “Cherokee”. It came out as Turkey – and the name stuck.) Turkey was a sweet guy and lived to be over 25 years old. Over the years, we also had countless barn cats with a variety of colorful names, ducks, and several cages of rabbits, which I later found out we would eat in our spaghetti. We also had a total of three Springer Spaniels throughout my childhood that we got as pups (I’m looking at you Buffy, Lottie, and Misty!) and a territorial toy poodle named Ace that only liked my mother and if you dare go near her, you will surely get nipped at.
I had formed relationships with all of these creatures. They were the only relationships that I could turn to when I was sad, lonely, or frustrated. They were a source of comfort and love.
Spending time in nature is primarily the only thing we did. We lived too far out for any cable or satellite TV. In the summer, I would walk down our rutty dirt road to the creek (Note: must be pronounced as “crick” and you are wrong if you pronounce it any other way.) to catch crayfish, tadpoles, and frogs. I wasn’t a fan of snakes, so I left those for Brother Bear. In the winter, we’d build snow tunnels in the canal-sized ditches and go ice skating on the tiny pond that pooled in the back corner of the yard. In the fall, we’d play in the leaves of the giant old cottonwood tree behind our house. And in the spring, we’d play in the muddy fields (farmer’s don’t like this, by the way).
After I turned 12, I moved in and out of my childhood home for various reasons and for various amounts of time. Usually to a city, and then back home, and then to a city, and then back home. The country continued to beckon me. When you spend your entire childhood outdoors in nature, you can’t help but love it. It is familiar and genuine. Cities will always feel phony to me. The country is an old friend that you can call and feel like no time has ever passed.
I now live in a subdivision on the edge of a large town, but just down the road from the wide-open fields. My dad, Papa P, still lives in my childhood home. The old cottonwood tree is still standing and there are still barn cats controlling the mice. Turkey is buried out back near the rusted posts of our old clothesline. The shed that Muffin lived in is still there and Misty, Papa P’s last Springer, her pen is now filled with cut wood for the wood burning stove.
My mind often drifts to the natural beauty of my childhood. In my mind’s eye I can see myself as a tiny little 5 year old with long chestnut brown hair blowing in the wind, my barefeet dug into the earth, my hands clutching one of our barn cats, and my eyes squinting up at the sun. That 5 year old still lives inside of me. You can take the girl out of the country, but it still lives in her soul.