I was born in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and spent my first three years there. My father decided it was time to move back home and so we packed our small-family belongings and headed back to Abingdon, Virginia. My father was born and raised in Abingdon and my mother was from Beckley, West Virginia, only a two hour drive from there. The move worked out well for everyone, especially me.
You see, we moved back to my grandfather’s dairy farm and settled in a refurbished log cabin at the edge of the 300 acre property. Abingdon is located in Southwest Virginia, a place of gently rolling hills buttressed by the mountains of the Blue Ridge. The farm consisted primarily of acreage dedicated to either pastureland or cornfields. There was, however, a sliver of forest where the woods of the Knobs, as the locals called a section of steeper hills, spilled over onto the farm.
I don’t remember too much of my first year there, a three-year-old’s memories stick only briefly , but I do recall an overwhelming sense of wonder. The visual dance of blue and green and white as clouds raced across the blue afternoon sky that was propped up by the gentle green hills. Or the dark grey covering of a stormy afternoon, occasionally ripped open by the slash of a lightening bolt. At night there were the stars. Oh, the stars! A vast array of bright points that defied counting. In Ft. Lauderdale the street lights and humidity veiled all but the brightest stars. Here there was no light pollution and the cloudless nights were stunning! The night sky rippled with bright and dim like the land below rippled with high and low.
The Knobs would spit the moon out and it wandered the bright heights and dark valleys of the night sky, finally finding rest somewhere in the hills of the neighbor’s farm. Back again the next day though, ejected from the Knobs, a bit thinner or fuller, a little earlier or later, but back again.
The quiet of the place was also astounding. Of course there was the occasional droning of a tractor doing farm business, but most often there was only the call of a bird or a dog barking punctuating the soft whisper of a breeze. The night was almost completely silent. If you happened to be down by the creek you could easily discern the various small critters of the marshy banks by their noise, but silence overspread the creek rukus as you moved away. The only exception to the quiet came at milking time. As the “girls” were herded into the small lot preparing to do their part to contribute to the calcium needs of children, they would sometimes vocalize their joy or displeasure.
Then there was the wonder of freedom! Not just a small patch of yard bounded by pavement and concrete, no, there were fields and forests and creeks and barns to explore. Yes, there were fences, but those were there only to keep cows in, they were no obstacle to boys. I quickly learned to navigate barbed wire with speed and blood-free agility. Our play time consumed the hours like the land we roamed drank in the rain. The time was not lost though, it was invested, invested in memories and beauty and peace.
The best thing about our move to the farm was that I gained a friend and companion. My cousin, Mike, was my age and lived “just up the holler” and so we became best of friends. Seldom were my farm excursions solitary ones, Mike was usually with me. If Mike’s travel plans were constrained by farm chores, I would stay in my own yard and engage in battle and conquest with G.I. Joes and plastic tanks. Mike was a son of he farm. He knew more of the ins and outs of dairy farming at the age of 7 than I know now. I lived on the periphery of the farm, Mike lived in the center. Yet we both knew the lay of the land and how to squeeze the most from each farm day.
Our family’s move to the Blue Ridge farm opened to me a world of wonder and joy.