The cold, June sky was a cobalt blue and steam shot from the horses’ nostrils as they moved across the chest high field of hay. It was our first summer in Maine and Barney and Nicker were pulling a #9 McCormick Dearing High gear horse drawn mowing machine that Bob and I had found and fixed up. Other than the early morning birds the only sound was the cutter bar as it neatly clipped the tall timothy and orchard grass and laid it in long neat rows behind the mower. Our friend Wayne whose farm we were haying walked along nearby giving us pointers.
Coming to Maine in the early 70’s Marty and I were part of a “back to the land” movement where suburban young adults tired of the lives their parents were living and weary of the Vietnam War voted with their feet and left their college diplomas for the organic gardens and simpler lifestyle of rural America. The small farm Marty and I found was built somewhere around 1840 and had provided six generations of families with a subsistence existence. These folks would plant a garden in the spring, cut hay in the summer, harvest crops and spread manure in the fall, log in the winter and start all over again in the spring. When we moved in, our farm had a stall for two big horses and tie up for three cows, one for milk and two for meat. Sometime in the 40’s our barn had been converted to accommodate large numbers of chickens on the second floor.
Down the road from our house is a small graveyard where Marty and I plan to be buried. The headstones tell the stories of our deceased neighbors. Men lived only till their 50’s, women died earlier, often in childbirth and large families provided the labor force. On Memorial Day small flags fly from those neighbors who served in combat, some in the Civil War but most in far off places. For many of them, it was their only chance to see the world.
In the summer I walk past this graveyard several times a day on the way to our pastures. Occasionally I will pass by and see my friend Gary digging a grave. On learning that the deceased served in the Armed Forces, I will return later in dress up clothes and quietly stand behind the family. And tears will run down my face as I remember, as I relive all the reasons why I left behind my prior life and came to this small valley at the foot of the Burnt Meadow Mountains. I will look at my horses grazing in the field across from the grave yard, dried sweat from the day’s haying still on their backs. I will squeeze my hands together and wonder why I am still alive when so many died and a brew of guilt and gratitude will course through my veins.