The Next Twenty Years

“A young man spends his first twenty years trying to get off the farm, and the next twenty trying to get back.” - John Palmer Gregg

In the winter you could see one of our neighbors, or rather you could see their house. It was visible once the leaves had fallen off the intervening chestnuts and the wild grape and other vines had dried up and fallen away. I enjoyed cold walks in the woods more than playing in the snow, though the southern Appalachia ridge where I lived made superb sledding. There was the remains of a wagon trail halfway down that could send you flying the other half. If you walked carefully in the woods, (Remember: If you want to go slow, you lead with your toe,) and stayed downwind, you could sometimes sneak within a few yards of the wildlife.

In spring, especially those first few warm days, the breeze was a gentle kiss, a soft promise of later joys. As the plants were returning to life I was fascinated by the unimaginable variety of the color green. From almost white, with just the tiniest hint of yellow at the blossom end of a gourd to virtually black with quasi-purple highlights in some wild grasses.

Summer tries to sneak in with a few early feints before throwing a white-hot hook. The continued heat of summer made a quick dive in a pool before sunset, or a day at the lake, the best way to wash off the day or the week, respectively. Beside the lake was a little-league field where I played ball for years. Summer will always be the bitter smell of chlorine or the slight pungency of lake water, and the crack of a well-hit ball and the deep thwumpf of a fast ball getting buried in the catcher’s mitt.

From the back porch you could watch as the mountain changed from a myriad of cool greens to the warm brilliance of fall leaves. Beginning at the peak of the highest ridges, it flowed like gold down the mountain sides until the entire countryside was covered. The most mundane drive into town was transformed into a tour through a city spun of glinting gold. The scent of fresh-fallen leaves, the feel of flannel and the weight of a jacket across your shoulders for the first time in months were always a comfort in themselves - even though they are also harbingers of campfires, hot cider, and harvest time with all its celebrations.

Then, sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, almost without noticing, the friendly winds grew fangs and bit at fingers unaccustomed to the cold. And there was the neighbor’s house again, you could see it when you looked through the barren chestnut trees.

Every season has its own private joys denied the rest, and each have their particular difficulties. Each is unique, different in nearly every aspect: hot, cold, cool, warm, dry, wet, sweet, acrid, bright, dark, stormy, still.

While I do like every season, I find that what I enjoy the most is the time between the seasons. The transitions are exciting, filled with enjoying that season’s last delicacies while anticipating the next season’s bounty. It’s a time for hope, and a time of now past joys and spent days.

I like the ambiguity of the in between times too, no longer one thing, but not yet the other. The mashup of early bloomers and late starters. It makes it hard to identify a ‘beginning’ or an ‘end.’ There is no precise point where you could definitively say, “This here marks the beginning of Spring.”

I also have a hard time beginning things, like essays for websites, just as an example. To be fair, I also have a really hard time ending things, which you’ll discover soon, and too many plans and ideas to squeeze into the middle part of whatever season I’m going through.

As we wind regular Foundling House postings down, I think back about how the seasons of our lives often have ambiguous beginnings and endings. Friendship often flows into love and sorrow can linger beyond mourning. There is little in life more precious than tears shed in memory of a departed love at the birth of a child, or the sound of friendly laughter following a funeral.

For everything, turn, turn, turn.

I moved away from that ridge and that town when I went to college. Then I moved again for a job, and again a couple more times. I somehow found a wife during all that, and work that we loved doing took us all over the world.

It might have been a kiss of spring, or a nip from winter, because if we must put down a finger and say, “Here. Here is where the next season began.” It is a better guess than most. Because there was a moment when I realized that season in our lives would someday pass away.

It was sometime during that season that I; being from the South, and from Appalachia, decided it was my birthright to pen my own folksy aphorism:

“A young man spends his first twenty years trying to get off the farm, and the next twenty trying to get back.”

If we focus only on the beginnings and the endings of seasons, we miss the long string of days between. There is one day that ends, one that begins. But there are very many more days where the previous season lingers on in the growing wind of the next.

But now that I have moved back to the farm, my wife and I are flower farmers now, and Foundling House is finishing up its season, I can’t help wondering what is coming next. For myself, and for those who wrote, or edited, or were profiled at Foundling House.

Perhaps in the foolishness of youth, I may not have thought that adage through all the way. What do I do now that I'm back on the farm?

What season is the breeze blowing in?

What particular sorrow?

What particular joy?

Whatever you deem Lord, let the wind blow.

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