The farm used to have something like 200 individual homesteads on it at one time. Years ago. Now that we’ve been in the county for a few years, more and more people come by, tell us their stories. They tell Jon more than me–he’s around more and he feels easy to approach–but I listen better. I know how to talk to people. Getting them to approach me at all is the problem. But that’s a whole other issue, my standoffishness.
There’s a red house on the property whose bones are more than a hundred years old. A neighbor a mile or two down the road lived there for eleven years. Her father built the front door. I asked her if she wanted to take it off the hinges. She said no. She told me how many days she spent baking cookies in the kitchen, and how she saved money to buy new cabinets from Sears. No one lives in the house these days. Its walls are hollowed with squirrel trails, there’s deer scat in the hallway.
The other homesteads, you almost can’t see them. During the war, the military occupied into the territory and dismantled almost all evidence of any houses. You’re lucky it you find a foundation at all. Mostly you can see them by their daffodils. They burst up out of the ground in the spring, the first splash of color in the gray woods.
It’s so strange to me, I told Jon, that you don’t find any other evidence of those old homes. No broken plates, no garbage. In the Alaska woods where I grew up, you’d walk into cabins fifty years abandoned and find magazines half-open on the dining table, a bowl of cereal petrified in time. It’s not like that here. There’s nothing.
And then Jon found this.
It’s not much. I know that. And in Europe, yes, yes, these sorts of stone walls are everywhere. But it’s not like that here, not in the Ozarks, not on our farm. There’s hardly any evidence of any past, only woods, and they’re so hard to read. So when these artifacts surface, they feel like little miracles. You touch the stones and wonder about the hands that placed them there, the hope, the frustration.
Now it’s just a wall.
A friend of Jon’s figures it’s probably more than a hundred years old, and that it was the foundation for a kind of store house where the community, now long gone, kept items for refrigeration–milk, that sort of thing. The spring that comes out flows hard, even in the driest weeks of winter.
No one comes around anymore. No one but us.