Friday, April 29, 2016

Youth #AtoZChallenge

Youth.  We miss it when we are older, sometimes.  But without our youth, we would not be the people we are today.

Let us return to the late 1970's.  Economically, it was not the best of times.

My husband and I were afraid, along with many others, that the economy was tanking.  Although we were in our late 20's, we found ourselves trying to prepare for a future that was uncertain.  Part of our urge to homestead came from reading a magazine called "Mother Earth News" and deciding we were going to "live off the land". Oh, and by the way, unlike my fellow blogger in Nebraska, neither of us had any relatives that had ever pursued the rural life.  We were fully urban. I was born and raised in New York City.  My spouse grew up partially in Yonkers and partially in another New York City suburb.

Yet, we had dreams of self-sufficiency, of living the "organic way", and Arkansas turned out to be the place where we were going to make them come true.  My spouse was in the Air Force, he was stationed in Wichita, Kansas,  and his enlistment was going to be up in 1980.  We went on an Arkansas vacation in 1979 (about five hours away from Wichita), looked at several pieces of land and bought 34 acres in Washington County, in Northwest Arkansas. It was gently rolling country, which reminded my spouse of where he grew up in New York State.

We moved to Arkansas the day after the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.
My spouse on our land circa 1982
Full of youthful energy and ready to try our hand at country living, we lived in Arkansas for five years (four on our land).  It was five years we are both proud of.

We learned skills (especially my spouse) that we may never use again-but one never knows.  We learned what works.  We learned what doesn't work.

Don't ask -it was an Epic Fail
We learned there was courage and stubbornness in us we didn't think we had, along with a rebellious streak.  We learned that failure means only that you tried, and you need to do something different.  (For example, trying to build a house out of hay bales on a stone foundation was NOT the best idea we ever had.)

The experiences we had on the land helped us gain maturity.

My spouse and I would both have been different people without this experience.  We are who we are, in part, because we did what we did.

So, almost three years ago, we embarked on the ultimate nostalgia trip- returning to Arkansas nearly 30 years after we left it, to see how it had changed.

Somehow we and Arkansas moved towards each other in the nearly 30 years since we left, and we've met in a strange and unexpected middle.

Northwest Arkansas has grown tremendously over the past 27 years.  Just from 2000 to 2010, the population grew 71%.  Where there was once rural land, huge shopping centers stood.  It made me dizzy.  Literally.

During the visit, we decided to go back to our land and see what had happened in the nearly 30 years since we left.  After about 15 miles of the nearly 25 mile drive, it was almost like time had stood still.

The roads were back down to two lanes.  Farmers drove slowly.  The traffic lights disappeared. Round hay bales stood in the fields.  Cattle grazed.

We went through Canehill, an incorporated place that could have been great except for the United States Civil War.   Several historic buildings (in ruins)- the remnants of its former history as a college town, and a ruined mill, can be seen if you know where to look.  We did know, even though we had never bothered to investigate its history when we had lived near there.  It somehow all came back to us.
From Arkansas State highway 45, we made the turn into the tiny unincorporated hamlet of Morrow.

We passed what used to be the Morrow Cash Store, a true general store. (We didn't go in).
Then, we turned onto the road where we lived.  A little of it is paved now, but most of it is still unpaved.  Just like when we left.

So let me tell you what we found on our former land. 

We had two sets of married couples as neighbors.  One of the men (we had found this out right before we left) died in late 2012 and the other man died several months before we made our visit (August of 2013.)  We had not kept in touch with one at all; for the other, it had been many years.  As far as I can tell, both women are still alive here in 2016.

The house of one of the neighbors was gone  - absolutely no trace of it, or his barn.  No foundation, no nothing.  As of 2012, the other neighbor was still living where they were living when we were their neighbors. I don't know if she, as a widow, was still there in 2013, but her trailer was there.

The cabin my spouse built with the help of one neighbor's eldest son - gone.

Faded picture of our chickens circa 1983
Our chicken house - gone.
Our geese, possibly in 1985
The peach tree we had planted - gone.  My roses.  My flower beds. My herb plants.  Gone.

Our garden areas - gone.  Our raspberries - gone.
The people living there had two dogs who ran after our car, and no trespassing signs at the driveway entrance made it clear they would not welcome a visit (which we weren't planning to do anyway, but I did want to get out and walk on the road.  I abandoned that idea quickly.)  

Spouse drove up the road a bit, turned around, drove down the hill and left, as I took pictures.  When we had cell phone service again, I sent pictures to my son back in New York on a device that didn't exist when we left - a smartphone.

At the time, I said we would never come back to Morrow.  There was no need.  Only ghosts of our past remained, and we let them go.  They flew away in the hot, late August, breeze, dust in the wind.

For many of the homesteaders of the 1970's, I suspect what happened to us also happened to them. Some succeeded.  Many didn't.  But they took what they learned back to the city, and changed our country.

Although I will never say never, I still don't think I will ever return.  But it does make me sad that I will never be able to walk what was once my land, ever again.  My youth must stay in the past where it belongs, along with all the other sand that has flowed through my personal hourglass.
 So are the days of our lives.

"Y" day on the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.


  1. So many memories Alana - and such a wonderful time in your life. Sometimes you have to try something and move on to the next stage, but it's great when you take away lessons that you can use in living the next stage. Leanne @ cresting the hill

  2. I miss my youth sometimes. I'd like to be young and carefree again but I know that wont be happening anytime soon.

    #AtoZChallenge Y is for Yelich-O'Connor

  3. Enjoyed the post, is always good to remember lessons learned.

  4. Wow! I love your experimenting and learnings as you lived in the country side. It's an experience of its one kind.
    Your trip back there after 30 years reminded me of our trip to our old house. Everything had changed in a span of 2 decades and it kind of felt sad!

  5. Memories of youth are everlasting, they say! And what would we ever be without those lessons when we faltered and doubted and yet, plunged into things. I absolutely agree with you, we wouldn't be the people we are today without those invaluable life lessons. Wonderful post, Alana

  6. Mine was all concrete. Never owned any property. I'm not sure where in time I feel the most comfortable.

  7. Even though everything is now different, you still have you memories (and old photos) - and they are worth treasuring.

  8. It is so disquieting to return to a place full of exciting memories, only to find the reality has changed. I experienced something similar when I returned to the home I grew up in, only to discover a shabby, tumble down building that looked to have been neglected for the 40 some years since we lived there. But as you say, you are who you are now from the experiences of the past.
    Now, about that hay bale house...

  9. What a wonderful memory of growing and maturing through hard work and a desire to do it yourself. I have gone back to homes I'd previously lived in and was almost always sorry I did.

  10. That's an interesting story. I bet it would make a great book.

  11. What a beautiful story. I especially liked your last few paragraphs. Very touching and very emotional. Oh how we tried in our youth...and how nothing ever got us down. We failed, but we got back up again and soldiered on. I don't know that I have that fortitude anymore.
    How nice that you got to get back and see your land. Amazing that it still remained fairly rural in that particular area -- yet so close to hustle and bustle.
    What a wonderful trip down memory lane. Bittersweet.

    Michele at Angels Bark

  12. I had to laugh at the hay bale know why, right? Been there done that...sorta...hay-adobe. Built a Kiln that way back in the days of digging clay in the hills of Terlingua, Texas....right on the border of Mexico. Oh, and I would still have chickens and ducks if I could. As you can guess, we had similar youthful experiences. Great post...brought back memories for me. Sorry your return to Arkansas was disappointing. As they say...everything changes! Your youthful Mother Earth flourishes in you today!
    Sue at CollectInTexas Gal

  13. Another beautiful piece. And many good points about the lessons of youth and how we carry them with us into our futures.


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