It’s been almost a month since I visited my grandparents’ old place for the last time and said goodbye to the mountain, the meadows, and the homestead that have been there as long as I can remember, an anchor.
I took one of my dearest friends on a day trip up to Northport. She let me talk along the way, listening to random memories. I needed that day, that final visit to my grandparents while they still lived in their beloved mountain cabin where time always managed to stand still. I needed the chance to pick apples from the tree in the front yard, and sit in the living room with my grandma as she laughingly recounted a story, and watch my grandpa tend his tomatoes. I needed to walk up the driveway past Emil’s cabin one more time.
When we got there I pulled out my camera, focused my lens on the weather-worn barn, on the aspens about to turn color, on the apple tree that is older than me, and I said goodbye.
Five generations of my family have walked this land, and in the Northwest that’s an eternity. For 32 years I’ve been driving up the winding road under a canopy of trees to visit my grandparents. As a kid my mom would tell us about her childhood growing up there. I loved sleeping in her old room above the kitchen, imagining her as a girl. She fell in love with my dad while she lived in that room, the two of them disappearing into the sunset on his motorcycle, high school sweethearts.
There are so many things I’ll remember… the green glass candy jar on the counter, the narrow wood steps leading to the basement, the laundry chute that we played in for hours as children – stretching out our small arms and legs as we scaled inside to the second floor. I’ll remember my grandma talking as she made dinner at the ancient stove, the sweeping views of the river, and Thanksgivings with the entire family gathered around a long table, my grandpa at one end pretending to need binoculars to see my grandma at the other end…
I watched my grandpa on that last visit, only days before moving off his mountain. He was sitting on the porch with his back to the house, facing North. Just looking. Not saying a word. He watched a storm roll down the valley from Canada, as he had done a thousand times in his life… but for the last time. How do you say goodbye to your entire life? This land IS my grandfather. He was born here 85 years ago. He has explored it, loved it, cared for it. He knows every tree on 200 acres, every stump, every clearing. This land is as much a part of him as breathing. I can’t imagine him without his forests and his mountain, his river… without the wild surrounding him.
A lot of people don’t understand how a soul can be so tied to a piece of land – but I know, and I’m tied too, and it’s hard to let go. I want my daughter to grow up with the same sense of connectedness, an awareness and gratitude for how deeply our roots go into this little corner of the world. I think it makes it easier to spread your wings and fly when you know where you came from, when you have a hometown or homestead in your rearview mirror.
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