Memories of running wild and free on our family farm in New Tripoli, Pennsylvania
Mostly everyone has a memory of that one place, a family tradition, or home that catered to all of your needs as a child. The physical space for your childhood nostalgia, happiness, contentment—a place you explored in ways that weren't available to you in other physical locations. For me, it was our family farm in New Tripoli. I can't tell you how many minutes, hours, days, or weeks I spent there but I know, even as a child, it was quite substantial. Even when I wasn't on the farm in person, parts of me were always connected, actively running through the woods, the fields, the wetlands. I was covered in mud, joy, cuts and scrapes, love, and freedom. My mind would take me back when I was feeling lost or lonely, or when I needed a safe space to calm myself in times of stress or anxiety. When I needed to feel included.
My favorite memories included running through freshly cut hay fields flying kites, walking up to the hill and sitting with my cousins, grandmother, great-grandmother, or aunt and watching the sun set on the Appalachian Trail. The children had free range over more than 100 acres of farmland with an acre pond, woods, hills, fields of corn, hay, and grasses, old farm buildings, gardens, rogue or heirloom blueberry bushes. We'd get dressed and leave in the morning and come back when Nana would shout "LUNCH TIME" or "WASH UP FOR DINNER" and we all knew, you don't make Nana shout twice. Sticks in my hair, mud on my face, animal bones in my pockets, the probability of blood on my bare feet was likely—it was my place. A place where my soul ran free, where I tumbled, explored, investigated, swam, dug, rolled, jumped, climbed, hid, and foraged. I made mud pies and fancy mud dinners, I knew every nook and cranny of every building. I knew every scent of the barns, chicken coop, log hut, shanty, outhouse, and sheds. The cold cellar, the coal cellar, the root cellar, the smell of centipedes and fear in the cellar below the kitchen because there was only one light and the insects down there were larger than life. The sound of the squeaky board on the porch, the soft ting of the wind chimes all over the property, the change in ripples on the pond before a storm. The coo of the mourning doves so distinct yet gentle like the wind. We would walk to local friends' farms and help pick green beans. I shelled so many beans. We would go to friends' farms and help get eggs. We'd barter or trade one set of goods for another. We'd bake pies all day. Don't think for a second I didn't have chores even though I was mostly visiting, by the age of 3 or 4 I was responsible for sweeping before or after meals, helping with dishes, picking up sticks, raking and sweeping outside, dusting and vacuuming with those old diner/ movie theater manual carpet sweepers. Sometimes we would watch old shows or "Murder She Wrote" with our family cuckoo clock dinging and chiming away, but most of the time I was just way too busy to be bothered with tv. I had so much to do. I was weaving, collecting items, sewing, going through ancient buttons and bits and bobs. I was gutting fish and building stuff with wood and duct tape with my grandfather. I was dodging leeches and snapping turtles in the pond. I was just resting in a field surrounded by nature, looking at the stars in the sky and wondering how this was all created. I knew all the constellations and would search for stars that only I could see. I learned more at the farm than I did in school where I worked diligently but often got in trouble for talking too much, asking too many questions, insisting on doing things my own way or trying new things. I made good grades but was often bored or daydreaming. I would count the days or hours until I could return to my freedom space, my arms-wide open, hair down, sensory haven.
Recently, I came across the term "Hiraeth" (pronounced [hiraɪ̯θ]) is a Welsh concept of longing for home, which can be loosely translated as 'nostalgia', or, more commonly, 'homesickness'. " Penn State University "Word of the Week" entry describes it as such, "One attempt to describe hiraeth in English says that it is “a longing to be where your spirit lives.”" This definition resonates with me more deeply than just a homesickness.
Then we come to the word solastalgia, based on solace [that which gives comfort] and algos [Greek for pain]. Glenn A Albrecht, an Australian environmental researcher and philosopher, discusses the distress that we can suffer when seeking solace in a deeply loved location that has been spoiled, is no longer available for our use, or when our home or land has been lost.
But what does any of this have to do with reflections on education, nature, children and authentic childhood, or gardening? I often get lost in thought about places where I felt happy or the people who surrounded me when I was overcome with joy, contentment, satisfaction, and pure love. I've taken the time to really consider what these terms Hiraeth and solastalgia mean to me and what I can learn from them. Why does this keep happening? Why do I come back to these feelings? What do you do when you long to be where your spirit lives but you no longer own that space? Will you ever feel whole again?
While most of what I write includes helpful tips on gardening, facilitating learning opportunities, education, art, suburban "farming", and volunteering everything really ties into our human spirits and our ability to connect with ourselves, each other, and nature. It is all really a form of healing and while this could be a very personal, private journey for most people— which is understandable— I am sharing what I have learned so far in hopes that one person will stop and think, "I wonder..."
What we can learn from hiraeth and solastalgia
Don't get me wrong, I'm not feeling such a pang of despair over the loss of a place every day to the point where I can't get out of bed in the morning. But it does often get me wondering, is this place now the place I need to be? Are the avenues I have explored all leading to one "place" that can offer me more? How can I give back to others who may have forgotten the one memory from their childhood, the one that keeps them going? What can I learn from this as a way to move forward and offer my children the most rewarding childhood? Not the things—the memories, the laughter, security, the sensory inputs, the freedom. The presence over presents. We have what some may describe as "wild children". This isn't a lawless home, we obviously have guidelines, expectations, and standards which our children have worked with us to create, thus, our home does offer the opportunity for agency, autonomy, and liberty to speak freely and make choices—this means everyone including our children.
Thinking about a longing for place, memories, a physical time in history with people that no longer exist in my life. These are difficult topics to consider. What are they trying to teach me? Why did they make such an impact? How do we embrace the carefree nature of childhood and respect the time and space children need to grow, process, learn, evolve, and become the full-bodied humans they were meant to be? For us, this has included limiting screen use during family time. Yes, cuddling on the couch and watching a family, feel-good film can have its perks but do I want my children to recall as their favorite memory, "Remember when we were all huddled on that love seat, watching Swiss Family Robinson it was the greatest day of my life." That's cute but what about "Remember when we went for a hike and we had such a hard time and then we came to a clearing and found a field full of sunflowers? We ran to them and laughed and took pictures and tried to count them all but there were too many! Then we went home and drew pictures and hung them all over the house."
I am often stuck in a predicament. I have been working very diligently to cater my education, work experience, and volunteer hours to learn about art, organic regenerative farming, herbalism, gardening, homesteading, nature-based education, alternative education models such as Waldorf and Reggio-Emilia Approach pedagogies, and sustainable living. I want a space to create art, music, read, work, play, bake and cook, and build. I know that my children love these activities as well and they would really inspire them to flourish in areas that many people are not learning anymore. These are useful life skills. I want to live on a small farm or homestead and make our life— our life. I want to take ownership over it and Live as opposed to just getting stuck in the grind and existing here. We can cook, bake, grow food, make and build what we need because we will use them directly in our life. I want to host garden classes, rent garden space, encourage families, children, and veterans to play outside, connect with nature, and heal wounds that have been created by memories. I want to host small art gallery events and mingle with people who seek answers and express themselves creatively.
My children love our neighbors and they like our house but we can't do all these things here. Is it too late to move? Have they become too familiar with this space and these faces? Moving down the street doesn't mean they can't see their friends anymore, on the contrary, we will have more space to explore outside, play, run around, ride bikes, and enjoy those authentic childhood experiences that I crave for my children to experience. We can actually host campouts. We can host a more robust farm-based nature school or after-school program. I think the opportunities that a small farm could offer us are limitless.
For now we will keep moving forward but take things one day at a time. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, I'll be writing from a small plot of land where we grow our own food, grow a few fruit and nut trees, host garden, art, and nature-based learning experiences, rent garden plots to locals with similar needs, and have the space to evolve into our fullest selves.
Today is a reflection and a glimpse into a healing journey. Thanks for joining me. These are my own opinions and thoughts. Take what you need, leave what you don't need. If you'd like to collaborate or work together on a project, class, webinar, podcast, or article, let me know.
Remember to Grow, Plant, Eat, Soil, and repeat.
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