It's 36 degrees, and the fronds of palm trees go horizontal in the stiff north wind. From my seat at the tall tiki table inside, complete with a fringed umbrella, there's a wedge-shaped view of the Atlantic, churning and white-capped, framed by a three-story condo on the right, and a grove of spindly pines and low shrubs to the left.
We're on vacation at Tybee Island, Georgia, just the two of us, and our minds point north toward our Ohio home, wondering if the overnight single-digit temperatures this past week have been too much for the furnace to manage. Our friend, Pam, has been tending to the chickens, the cats, and our solitary rabbit (George). She shut off the water days ago and drained the pipes, and tells us everything is fine. We trust her. And we still register some low-level anxiousness.
Never has the feeling of "it's up to us" been more solid, or weighty, as it is now. I can't even see in our rearview mirror the days of apartment living and taken-for-granted calls to landlords when the heat was out, or a sink was clogged. On the farm, when life clicks along for months without incident, it's easy to forget that we're the landlords, until the toilet tank keeps running after a flush, or the crawl space where the furnace lives has 4 inches of water from an afternoon downpour. I learned quickly how to hook up the portable sump pump, and run 30 feet of garden hose out the back door of the mudroom before we installed a pit and "permanent" pump in the gravely floor of our dirt hole basement. It gives us a slightly wider measure of reassurance, but the nervousness of what could happen still hums beneath the surface of our homeowner confidence. Being a grown-up is more than just sitting up front in the car on family vacations, I can tell you that.
So, on this vacation, our attention is currently divided between a beach we see once a year, and 41 acres of meadow, creek, woods, pasture, and privacy back home, all of which catches and holds this dream of a life we're living. We are grateful for the gift of such contrast, and try to be good occasional tourists, visiting shops on the island, and not checking the central Ohio temps too often on our phones' weather apps ("it's going down to -4 on Thursday, honey".).
When we signed the contract for this piece of paradise we call Naked Acres, I'm not sure we understood the depth to which we would commit ourselves, but we did know we weren't city kids anymore. We have been and are In It, truly, for better and for worse, and have made good on that promise since 1999. The flooded basement in January 2000, the ice storm and barn roof collapse of 2004 (right in the middle of goat kidding season), the surprise summer derecho of 2012 that left us without power for 4 days in 100+ degree heat. These, added to years of Perseids, Geminids, Leonids and once, a rare glimpse of Northern Lights, have balanced our role as caretakers with that of humbled, awestruck sky-gazers. It's a full package deal, this rural responsibility. And when we do head off down the quarter-mile driveway, nothing snaps or breaks behind us. No matter where our travels take us--the Kroger in Mt Vernon, a mere 17 minutes away, or a sweet little island off the coast of Savannah--the invisible cable that tethers us to this land stretches and contracts, and keeps us ever connected to where our hearts reside. I don't know what effect that has on our sense of "being in the moment" (and I'm not currently interested in doing the research), but I'm happy to trade that for the realization that I can no longer tell where I end and the land begins. She is with me wherever I go, a part of every plan, large or small, starting point and destination simultaneously.
Whoever said "you can't take it with you" was wise and spot-on when it comes to material things (and it's a blessed relief to know I will not have to pack it all up). But I wonder if he ever stood watching the wingspan of a sharp-shinned hawk skim the dried up stalks of ironweed in the pasture to the east, knowing full well who he was, and to whom he belonged.
That hawk, and everything zooming beneath its precision flight, rides shotgun with us all the time. We're never gone from this place, and that kind of emotional luggage is a joyful burden to carry.