Posted by: jeannineatkins | September 25, 2008

Hope in Backyards and Very Small Forests

Thanks to those who wrote to me with concerns about young people unfamiliar with family farms. Okay, we have some cause for worry, but also to hope. In a class of 25, if one or two or three people say something, it’s easy to feel bowled over, assuming the class, everyone, thinks this, which by now you’d think I’d know wasn’t true. I’m glad that each and every person writes short papers and I get to hear individual voices, from people who might not otherwise speak up. Which, of course, was the kind of student I used to be.

After reading Charlotte’s Web, I asked my students to write an analytical paper or a memoir of a refuge, such as the barn was to the animals and for a while to Fern. I got to read about some safe hideouts within homes: a favorite comfy chair, a blanket fortress, and a post on the stairs with grape juice, cheese, a thick mythology book, and occasional passing annoyed siblings. One student loved people watching more than reading on the morning subway, but there were enough who found sanctuaries outside, in corners of the backyard or the edge of a very small forest. These were the days when a dozen trees might seem to be a kingdom. One wrote about her initial favoring of meadows over malls, but coming to find a way to friends who taught her about makeup, while she taught them how to climb a tree: without shoes, is part of her strategy.

Then yesterday my daughter and I drove by a big building near a farm on the Connecticut River.
“What’s that?” Her voice kind of choked around “that.”

The boxy building is ugly, but at least it’s for growing and shipping bean sprouts, so I’ve been told, on this farm where Chinese vegetables are grown. The old tobacco barns in town are prettier, but we appreciate its purpose more.

Tomorrow my daughter is “going home.” Her words, which I try to fit into my retro mind. Things change, homes change, it’s all right. Almost. I loved having her around for a week, and she enjoyed sleeping in the bed her dad built, handing around the dogs, taking her old spot on the couch, time with me trying not to grill too much. At the mall, we bought matching necklaces with tiny hearts we’re each wearing now: really, I can’t ask for much more. She seems to love L.A. with all its things to do, nearby beaches, a variety of people.

But still, I was glad that she told me, “In the mornings when I let out the dogs here, I think: what is that I’m smelling? And I remember. It’s fresh air.”

Which at the end of September is scented with maple leaves, drying on the tips, purple asters and wild grapes.



  1. I just love the relationship you have with your daughter. I’m so glad she’s happy–it must make it easier for you to let her go after these visits.
    Tell her to hunt for the carob trees–they have a smell that I can only describe as dense and heavy, but very much their own.

  2. But still, I was glad that she told me, “In the mornings when I let out the dogs here, I think: what is that I’m smelling? And I remember. It’s fresh air.”
    Yuck. I don’t know if I could handle that. If I went to CA I think I’d stay away from LA just for that reason. haha

  3. Thanks, Becky. The house is going to seem very empty, but you’re right: seeing her leave for a world she’s creating and where she’s happy is a good feeling. And interesting to watch from afar that develop as some of what we have in common stays, but whole new strands grow.
    Carob. Dense and heavy sounds good!

  4. Hey, I’ll see you tonight! Yay!

  5. YAY

  6. Beautiful post. I wish her safe travels.

  7. Thanks, Kelly.

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