I can’t count how many times I’ve been called a hippie. And no doubt my choice of time spent here in Scotland on a farm falls nicely into place for most people’s stereotypes. The girl who chose a non-traditional job, who likes natural organic foods, makes tinctures, and travels is now going to live on a farm.
Being called a hippie is sometimes funny, depending on who says it, but mostly it’s the bane of my existence. It’s a stereotype that people don’t even know what it stands for. It’s used for anything creative and non-linear or anyone who has this crazy idea that maybe preserving our earth might actually be good for not only the planet but also the human race. Never mind that the term was coined in the 60s when all hell broke loose with tie dye, hard drugs, and free love. These things all clearly define me (or not really, at all). But I digress.
I think most people would see my farm adventures as an extension of my progressiveness. Of my jumping into the social liberal pull of “hippie” ideology and getting carried on down the stream. But this is not how I see it at all.
I was born in a small town in the Midwest to two Missourian rural-folk, one a farmer’s son, the other a hillbilly farmer’s son’s daughter. They moved to central Illinois and set up permanent camp in the back of a small developing cul-de-sac with its back to a rolling field, a grove of woods to the right and a grassy hill to the left. My siblings and I used to wander out into the woods and discover the secrets of fallen trees, old tree houses and fire pits, and animal tracks. Often when I was bored and wanted seclusion I would creep past the field and duck into the vegetation and get lost in the glorious wild.
My childhood was rich with these experiences. I have never been nor am I now afraid of the dirt under my nails and the grass between my toes. I’ve had to pull hundreds of ticks off me in the course of my life and couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve pulled my pants down in the middle of the woods to get my business taken care of. I can remember in school being so perplexed by the other kids who were so afraid of such things. I clearly had different experiences that shaped my worldview, even though I didn’t know it at the time.
Where most people took vacations to resorts, our holidays were spent at my grandparent’s, the aforementioned farmers and hillbilly. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Memorial Day, Labor Day, you name it. We were there, frolicking with our cousins and enjoying all that the country had to offer.
My grandparents were plopped right in the middle of Missoura (Missouri, for all you foreigners) on a farm just a few minutes outside of a small town of about 700 people. This is where my kin live. Past generations moved here, and through the generations took a firm hold of the area. I have relatives and relatives of relatives and relatives of relatives of relatives that I don’t even know there.
There were haylofts to build forts in, fields to run through and silos to play on. The attitudes of those who grew up on a farm (that being my dad, my uncles, my grandparents…) is much different than the attitudes I see today. These playing habits were completely normal. Sure, there were large blades in the bottom of the silo below the corn we were playing in, and sure, the silo stretched high into the sky with a ladder without a guard, but this is what kids do. Or did, I guess. The world was a playground and we had firm control of it. Climbing to the top of the silo was a badge of honor, rearranging bales in the hayloft into a fort was a family affair. Nevermind the raccoon poop we had to climb over and around. It was just a part of the background to our big imaginations.
My cousins and I were always doing things of this sort. There was the Katy Trail, railroad turned walking path, with old telephone poles still decipherable from the landscape, leaning and falling over among the overgrown wildlife. For some reason one of my older cousins decided that we would start collecting the insulators from the poles. It became the challenge for the holidays, to the point that you had to walk quite far to find any insulators to speak of. Every holiday we would head out in a pack onto the trail and keep our eyes peeled for the poles. Some had fallen over and only required walking over and retrieving, while others required some climbing. It meant moving through the wooded bit and finding the ladder that surely nature had created to so we could maneuver to the top to get the prize. My grandma still has this stash in her basement somewhere that takes over a shelf or two of her large storage area.
When we weren’t out on the Katy Trail we were probably out climbing on pipeline hill, a hill nearby where the trees had been cut down and the grass trimmed because of an underground pipe line and the above telephone poles that ran over it. We would pile in cars and head over in our boots and play clothes and turn over rocks in search of ring neck snakes among the spiders and the scorpions. Yep, we were picking up itty bitty snakes among unidentified spiders and things that could give us a good sting. But this is what we did. This was utterly normal, and to me, utterly healthy. Playing in creeks and fishing in ponds, stomping around in mud and manure. These are my favorite, most treasured memories.
And then there was the Blue Hole, land in the middle of the Ozark national forest. My hillbilly of a granddaddy grew up in those hills, and because the land had been passed down from generation to generation it still laid within our family’s care. There was the house he was born in, the spring he drank out of as a child, the fields he used to farm and the pond he used to swim in. Every Fourth of July meant loading up the van and bouncing into the woods past the old fields plowed by my great grandfather to a hogbushed piece of land next to a pond, affectionately called the Blue Hole. The camp had a make-shift table where we lined up our water jugs and our bags of food. There was a fire pit that was brought in every year with three walls of metal and bars across the top. Then there was the canopy under which food was prepared and where we would hide in a serious down pour. The bathroom consisted of an outhouse that my granddaddy had made years ago and brought out. It was old, broken down and smelled of the excrement of many years. After one had finished with this endeavor you’d walk over to another table which held several tubs full of pond water with soap lying nearby: a germaphobe’s worst nightmare. And as there were no shower amenities, you would simply jump into the pond and enjoy the cool spring water and fish swimming around your feet.
The lack of modern entertainments meant that at night we would crowd around the fire and listen to stories. My granddaddy was a beast of a man, in his stature and in his nature. He was the strong silent type; the type to have thoughts and opinions, but to observe more than he spoke. But with his speech came the great authority of a man who had seen the years pass by and had done more than simply watch without taking note. He spent most of his time sitting and thinking and watching but would on occasion voice his opinion or turn to the children with a twinkle in his eye. But around the fire, my granddaddy would change. He would become the deep well of history. Stories of people I had never met and only heard about would resound in his words. How they would till the earth and raise their kids and work hard for their living. Stories about how my Great Great Granddaddy Wooden-Leg (yes, he had a wooden leg) would hide his chewing tobacco behind a picture frame to reuse it at a later time. Stories about how my Great Great Grandma Nancy Jane had shewed thieves away from stealing their horse with a board. Stories about how my Great Grandpa Clifton tried to teach a cow to milk by giving it a kick when it knocked the milk jug over, only to have the cow return the favor by kicking him over. Stories upon stories upon stories of the people who had lived on this land in humble, hard-working righteousness.
It’s in my blood. It’s in my history. It’s in my upbringing.
I guess you can call me a hippie if you want, but what’s really happened is that through my grandparents, my parents, and my childhood experiences I have learned the beauty of nature. I have learned what it means to live with and interact with nature in all its terrifying wild glory. And what I have seen happening is the destruction of that intimate relationship that the people before me have had. That I have grown up having. And with it we have forgotten who we are in the midst of it.
I had to admit to myself recently that I would never be my grandparents. I will never be those quiet, gentle people in Missouri who never gossip, cook too much food for their family and go to church every Sunday. I have grown up too differently, I have been over-exposed to the world with too much media, too many options, and more sex drugs and rock and roll than they ever had. I am strong and fiery and feisty. And although I have her name, I am not my grandma.
But I am their granddaughter. I am that little blonde haired blue eyed girl that cuddled with my grandma on the couch while she crocheted and let her entertain me with play dough and snacks. I am that little girl that stood on their old cement fish tank and pretended to tell the cows jokes as they watched with shear fascination at my every move (yes, cows have a staring problem, if you didn’t know.) And I am that little girl that swam in the pond of my ancestors and pulled snakes out of the earth. I have had the wonder of the true wilderness instilled in me by the people who came before the now modern age. And now that I see the creeks I used to swim in are polluted with fertilizers and sewage and the ticks I used to pull off myself are riddled with lime disease and the forests I used to call home are disappearing and the fish we pull out of ponds and rivers are “not advised to be consumed by those pregnant or nursing” and nature is growing ill and mother earth is groaning “Stop! Stop! Stop!” I want to reverse what humanity has unknowingly done to the land that I love.
Farming to me is like coming home. It’s like walking back into the footsteps of my Grandparents. Like settling back into the earth from wince I came. Hobbling out of haylofts and old mucky work boots only to go back home into a larger size of overalls. Back to a dependence on the land. And of course it looks different. I am a different person in a different time and place with different experiences and thoughts and ideas. But they have given me something of value and worth that I carry with me. So as I walk back into their shoes I know I will never be my grandparents, but when I look into their eyes, I know I’m their granddaughter. And for that I am grateful.