From the time I embarked on a journey in the army, I dreamed of a farm that awaited me after retirement. It was not unusual that I would dream such a thing at eighteen. I was always a dreamer. For a long period, I’d ride fence on an old bay gelding and dream of a Rocky Mountain ranch that awaited me. And so, over a thirty plus year stretch, I cobbled images together, building my dream, one vision at a time.
Often, if only in my mind, I’d return to my north Georgia home, to when I was a boy. I’d remember seven acres in Ranger on humid summers days, or a year of uncommon snow. It’s funny how time smooths out the edges. In my dreams, the soil is fertile and rich, the bees don’t sting, the snakes don’t bite but the fish always do. In a sense it was my Big Rock Candy Mountain.
On a dreamy summer day, I’d stop staring the tip of a fishing rod, lay back in the clover on the bank of our pond, and build a ranch that would only ever exist in my mind. A herd of angus cattle, a solid string of quarter horses, a couple of loyal dogs, and wildlife helplessly attracted to the sweetness of the grass.
The end did eventually come. The soldiers marched off the parade field. The band stopped playing and I fell back into a family that was happy to have me – a blessing beyond measure. We found a few small Tennessee farms for sale, not the Rocky Mountain Ranch, but realistic stretches of dirt, yet for myriad reasons were not able to close the deal on any of them. We wound up in a convenient neighborhood, but weeks ago the dreams returned with renewed clarity. We decided it was time to find a more comfortable spot to park. The search began.
Today, I woke to a steady rain and in the blink of an eye was back in Ranger. The horses stand with their feet close up under them in a steady rain. A German Shephard is curled up in a damp ball by the carport door, smelling musky. The bluegill pop the surface of the water as they swallow bugs knocked from the willows in the downpour.
After a soaking rain the worms, who fled their holes in the flooded earth, squirm on blacktop, and the horses stand broadside in the emerging sun to dry. Our pond holds tight to a bank of fog emerging from the surface, and it’s quiet – utter silence – until the locomotive passes through Ranger. The lonesome whistle echoes through the valleys until the vigor of the sound is consumed in space and time, and I realize that my daydreams have become memories.
From the time I was a small boy, I dreamed of a life and ranch in the future – one I made up. Now, in my fifties, my dreams have become precious memories. The perfect farm is still only a figment of my imagination, but instead of a vision of the future it’s a memory – one I’ve edited.
My memories force me to realize just how much I noticed. I suppose that’s the so what of it all. At a time before cell phones, personal computers, internet, and cable TV, I was forced to take note of the world around me. And so, I remember how excited I was every year when a pair of Canada geese would land on our lake and rest for a couple of days as they made their way south. I remember the lone squirrel that made its nest in a cedar thicket behind our home. Desiring to store as many hickory nuts as possible for the winter, he’d sprint as hard as he could across our pasture to the hickory tree out back. Then he’d stuff his mouth and jaws as full as possible and make another run, back across the danger of an open field, to his den.
I hope the noise and static of an infinitely connected, perpetually active world has not deafened our children to the natural world that surrounds them. Spring is a mere six-weeks away. Color is on the horizon, and somewhere there is a small piece of Tennessee land eager to be noticed.