I know not everyone will agree with this, but I subscribe to this great truth: You can take the girl out of the country, but you cannot take the country out of the girl.
There are some kids who are always dirty. Dirty knees, hands, elbows – that was me. I was the child who dug up the back yard to grow my own vegetables. I grew up clinging to the manes of horses, digging Indian arrowheads in cornfields, and riding my bicycle through mud puddles in the woods, singing at the top of my lungs.
I come from a family of farmers, but I did not grow up on a farm. My great-grandfather grew up on his family’s farm in Ardfert, Ireland. He married my Scottish great-grandmother, and they came to America with their children (my grandfather and great-uncle) to a beautiful piece of land in the Catskill Mountains called Silver Spring Farm, along the banks of the Schoharie Creek in Jewett, NY. We have many great photographs of the farm, filled with happy, smiling faces. At some point the farm was lost or sold and the family moved to Newark, NJ; the mists of time have blurred that unhappy information. My dad grew up in Kearny, but spent a large part of his childhood summers at the Carr family farm next door to Silver Spring, and my sister and I have fond memories of summer visits there, catching tadpoles in the creek, playing in the hayloft, and feeding clover to the cows.
My dad would have gone out to the country in a heartbeat. He tried – moving my mom and sister out to Hackettstown but it was too much for my mom. She was a city girl who regarded ducks and horses as wild animals, and therefore things to be feared. So Dad settled for the next best thing, a lovely small community in the ex-burbs called Pompton Plains. It was the perfect compromise – there were houses and blocks and neighborhoods, and there were also farms and fields when we were young (later on those farms would disappear one by one to be replaced with tract houses). There was a big horse farm on the street behind us. I used to clean stalls and shovel shit so I could beg to ride the horses around the corral for free. My mom never knew, or she would have had a fit. My parents’ good friends (and my sister’s future in-laws) had a big corn field, where I would lay between the rows and look up at the sky and watch the corn pollen drift down like fine, pale yellow snow. My friends and I would ride our bikes out to Jacksonville Road by the airport, where we would (eat and) earn 95 cents for every 6 quarts of strawberries we could pick.
I worked my way through school at Orchard Hill Farm in Towaco. In my mind, there is nothing finer than walking through the lush fields full of produce in the early hours of a summer’s morning. Strawberries cooled by the evening, wet with morning dew. Peaches plucked ripe from the tree, with every bite sending rivulets of juice down your chin. Watching the dear leap from the corn rows as you walked by, startling them from their chewing reverie.
This is the way life is supposed to be. Simple but full. Peaches canned in honey syrup and fresh, free-range eggs. Roosters crowing, hay growing, bees buzzing. The smell of the dirt when you turn over the garden in the spring. Life moving in circles. Babies growing into children growing into adults with babies of their own. So you can now see why it was easy for me to name this place Silver Spring Farm, too – it’s a fitting tribute to who I am, who my family was, and what it will be again.