I grew up in the booming, bustling suburbs of North Texas. While it wasn’t exactly a concrete jungle, it was a far cry from “small town America”. While most of my time was spent in school or organized sports, I loved to venture off on a trail near our neighborhood—a trail that wound its way through town, along a creek and what little pasture land that was left. This was always my escape, my therapy, if you will. Getting away from everything else and catching glimpses of what God has made—birds in the trees, ducks in the creek, the rare treat of a rabbit popping out of the bushes, an orange sunset beyond an empty field and the line of trees that scaled the horizon—whether I ventured out in a pair of running shoes or on my bike, this was my retreat. My place to think, to pray, to cope.
I know that I more or less grew up as a “city girl”, but I like to think I was a country girl at heart.
Fast forward a decade or two—through my college years and beyond early married life in the sizable city of Tulsa. My husband Nathaniel and I had now moved back to our small college town in Arkansas, eager to find a quiet place in the country; a place we could let our energetic young sons roam free. After two years in an apartment, we found it. A nice little cabin of a house on seven acres. And in our price range thanks to its being on the market for over a year and the owners’ eagerness to get out from under their mortgage.
And probably also because of the three-foot-deep 1980’s Jacuzzi tub that took up an entire small bedroom upstairs—surrounded by pink carpet for good measure.
The Lord answered our prayers for a “good house for cheap”. The day after we closed, a bunch of our friends helped us begin the moving process.
And they helped us rip out the defunct tub, taking it out the six-foot-wide window and lowering it carefully down from the roof with a friend’s tractor, happily opening up another bedroom for us.
Rub a dub, dub…how many men can fit in a tub?
We spent the next two months sleeping sometimes at our apartment and sometimes at the house while we worked late into the night to remodel the upstairs (all of it having been covered in said pink carpet). It was a tremendous relief to finally move in for good.
Another great relief came when someone paid us $200 for the tub. Seeing as how it sat for a month on our front porch, making us feel a little too hillbilly for my liking, I would have paid someone to haul it away! But this is Arkansas, after all, so it thankfully didn’t take too long to find some real hillbillies to take it off our hands.
You want one for your front porch, don’t you? You know you do.
That was two years ago.
I’m now sitting on our front porch just after sunset, enjoying the mild spring temperature and the sound of the water rushing in our creek after last night’s heavy rain. Our creek. This has to be one of the best features of this slice of creation we call home.
It provides the pleasant sound of rushing water and supports the lush vegetation and wildlife we get to see on a regular basis. Not to mention it’s fun to play in when the water is low.
One of my favorite sensations since moving out here is the smell. The flowing water and cooler temperatures of evening bring wafts of sweet, clean smelling air—and especially this time of year, when the honeysuckle is in bloom.
I’ve found that I am far more aware of the changing seasons now that we live in a home surrounded by grasses and trees. At the very least, I have to notice the first dandelions of spring since my boys love to pick these yellow flowers and surprise me with them on a daily basis as soon as they pop up out of the dead grass. And I don’t think I ever had any idea what time of year honeysuckles began to bloom and share their sweetness with the world—but now I know it very well and look forward to the end of April and all of May, when they are at their peak.
Soon, too, it will be berry picking time. There are wild blackberry bushes by our creek that have already worn their white blooms so beautifully—and I know that the berry farm two miles away must also be showing signs that the rich, juicy fruit will be ready for the picking in just another month. The boys and I read Blueberries for Sal each year before we go and gather several gallons of them, popping them warm from the sun into our mouths, the boys with purple juice running down their chins. It’s not a bad way to mark the beginning of summer.
I can’t say that I wasn’t aware of the seasons when we lived in town—I was, to be sure, and especially the coming of fall when I have always found sweet relief from the relentless heat of summer in the south. But I don’t think of seasons like I did as a kid (mostly by the arbitrary signposts of school starting or winter and spring breaks) or even as I did a few years ago (seeing summer as something to merely endure and winter as a time for Christmas and trying to avoid the flu). Being out here means I simply can’t help but notice the changes in the grass and trees, the flowers and the wildlife when I step outside our door. I now don’t just lament that we didn’t get any snow to play in this year. I’m wishing we’d had a good solid freeze to kill off more of the ticks and mosquitoes. Despite the fact that I’ve mostly learned to shrug off all kinds of insects and spiders, simply ducking away from wasps and bees and brushing other assailants away when they happen to land on me rather than freaking out about it, I’m still not looking forward to increased numbers of the two aforementioned blood-suckers and the itchy welts they inevitably leave. This year’s bug situation aside, however, I now understand so much more the beauty and unique bounty each season brings—and how much we depend upon them for our food.
The colors, smells, sounds, and other sensations that mark the seasons have been great fun to share with our children. It’s a huge part of their early education, just to notice the world around them, the things that God has made: collecting leaves and bark, flowers and insects, poking with a stick at an ant pile in order to observe the little red soldiers at work, sitting outside at night to watch the moon and the stars, playing “Pooh Sticks” on the bridge over the creek and noticing how sometimes the sticks move quickly and sometimes they don’t move at all depending upon how much rain we’ve had recently.
Of course, there are some unintended consequences of raising boys in the country—like when my youngest, who was only two when we moved out here and thus is more thoroughly countrified than his older brother, saw a swimming pool at a hotel and exclaimed gleefully, “Look Mama! They built us a pond!”
It was one of those Beverly Hillbilly moments.
And there’s the unavoidable skill that little boys pick up from their father when there aren’t neighbors within view—peeing off the porch. This easily translates, in a three-year-old’s mind, into peeing off of the top of the slide at the playground or out of the side of the van in a parking lot.
Theoretically speaking, of course.
Perhaps this has created some extra work for me in training the boys on how to behave in public, but along with that there have been many good opportunities for us to work together as a family—clearing trails in the woods, piling up tree branches and sticks to make a bonfire, digging up rocks and dirt in our crawl space so that we can encapsulate it, lining the smaller creek that runs by our house and empties into the big creek with stones, watering freshly planted peach trees, and this year preparing the ground and growing seedlings to start our first garden.
I’d like to say we are eagerly anticipating a bountiful harvest, but at this point we will be doing well if any of our crops survive.
Living in the country has certainly brought a heavier work load for me (and a heavier dirt load for our floors—one day, I keep telling myself, we will have a mudroom), but I welcome the opportunity to be outside in a place I love. About four of our acres are covered in trees, but the rest is a mixture of various grasses and ground-covers that needs to be mowed six months out of the year. After mowing just the half-acre right around our house with a used-to-be-self-propelled push mower, I was elated to get a zero-turn riding lawnmower. Cruising across our yard, feeling the warm sun and breeze on my skin and the speed and power of the machinery beneath me, I have almost come to appreciate the annoying few lyrics that I can remember from “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” that used to play over the loud speaker at high school softball games.
Speeding around on the mower has perhaps translated too easily into speeding along down the curvy asphalt roller coaster on our route into town. I used to be so much more careful when we lived in town. I guess there’s something about the fresh air, the usually unpopulated roads, and the general feelings of independence that bring out my inner libertarian. That and it makes driving a minivan much more fun if I can imagine it’s a race car. Oops.
Yes, we have a beautiful drive into town.
On a much more law-abiding note, living in the country (perhaps, if I’m honest, along with my fascination with The Hunger Games) has led to a growing interest in hunting, what with my recent acquisition of a compound bow and the plentiful supply of deer that grace our land. Of course, to make this paragraph accurate, I’ll have to get a hunting license first. Cue screams from my inner libertarian.
Too bad this was taken through a screen…
Accuracy…meh. Precision…not bad.
It’s clear to me that living in the country is beginning to leave its mark on us. As a matter of fact, my husband insisted on playing “Sweet Home Alabama” on his guitar while I read him this article to get his feedback.
Silly interludes aside, I have to say that since I didn’t grow up in the country, and despite having lived in this place for two years now, all of our activities out here are still so new to me—bird watching, star gazing, gardening, lining a creek with stones, attempting to identify flowers and plants and bugs, cutting trails, pitching tents and hammocks, talking about raising chickens next year—it’s helped me to realize that while I received a good education, and even a degree, I still have so very much to learn about the world God has made. I’m like a child trying to soak up every experience of the natural world around me, just beginning to learn that each object I encounter has a name and a purpose.
Purpose. I’ve wondered at times if we’re not just hiding ourselves away on our land without one. Having never lived on more than a quarter acre before in my life, the thought of “Are we actually making good use of this land?” has crossed my mind.
Of course we want our children to have room to run around and explore. And we enjoy the quiet and privacy, as well as the potential for food production. But it wasn’t until last fall that I had a moment of confirmation that, yes, this is why we have this place.
We held a shindig with somewhere near forty friends, old and new. Our small living room was easily crowded with only a fraction of the people who had come over. Cars lined the long driveway from the big creek up past the house. I had been so busy with serving food that I missed a good portion of the activities. But right around dusk, when I finally stepped out on the front porch to see how things were going outside, I had to stop and smile. I could see shadows of our friends circled around a bonfire a stone’s throw away on the other side of the yard creek. Someone was playing a guitar. Most were singing praises.
Yes. This. This is why we’re out here. Not just for our family to enjoy, but to be able to share this place with others.
I can only hope that our guests (and the members of my family) will find this place half as beautiful and comforting as I do. I’ve always needed to get outside to get away. Getting out of the four walls of our house is a metaphor for getting out of the four walls of my own mind. I need to be able to see beyond myself—beyond the duties and messes and failures that can so frustrate me, the thoughts that seek to entrap me—to see the expanse of the sky, the bigness of the world outside of my concerns, and to know that my God has made it all and holds it all together. His faithfulness to His creation and His transcendence keep me grounded when I am tempted to give into the waves of turmoil spilling over within my soul.
Living in the country doesn’t make anyone more godly or more spiritual, but I have found it a balm to my soul to be able to walk outside and see what God has made—to catch a glimpse of His nature revealed in creation.
So I’m thankful to be right here where we are.
The Lord knows I need it.