Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Georgia Landmark takes me Back

[Top Photo: Approach to the Power family's cabin]

[Photo: from storage shed, left of the cabin]

[Photo: view of the cedar tree shading the cabin]
Pace Cabin and Hyde Farm, Cobb County
With other teachers, I toured an amazing place nestled in the woods in the vicinity of Powers Ferry Road.  I've known that road since 1970 as a place of suburban sprawl, all subdivisions and shopping malls.

But behind all that, the cabin built by Mr. Power and his family in 1845 remains.  Our guide has lived in this cabin since 1971, and has marshaled support from Cobb County Landmarks and Historical Society, county commissioners, and the National Park Service to preserve the area. 

We got some sense of her life there.  We felt the cool water freshly drawn from the well; we stood in the shade of the vast cedar tree behind the cabin; we walked half a mile to get to the neighbor's farm.

Good Fences Make Good Stories
Our guide, whose given name is Morning, waved to the place where the Hyde farm and the Pace farm met, where the two families worked together to construct a fence.

My literature-soaked mind skipped past Robert Frost straight to the wonderful stories of Wendell Berry.  He can be bitter about how we've traded independence and "brotherhood" in farm communities for debt and dependence on the grid.  One story in his collection That Distant Land comes to mind, telling how old Mat Feltner takes his annual walk around the perimeter of his property, a ritual meant for noting things that will need attention. For this last tour, every landmark reminds Mat of someone and something he loved -- and has lost.   Besides the emotional effect, though, we also get a strong sense of the daily and seasonal work needed to keep up a farm.  In Berry's vision, it's not just work for one's own comfort and security, but stewardship of land, a responsibility both solemn and joyful.

Morning herself mentioned "stewardship" several times.  She described some repairs she made to the roof, the limbs sawed off the cedar, the time she climbed down the well, her competition with numerous deer for the fruits of her garden, and the process of washing clothes and hanging them in the sunlight. I thought how her to-do list would compare to mine, which nowadays is likely to be shaped by email messages, calendar reminders, and impersonal interactions with people behind counters and steering wheels.

As Berry said, there are lots of trade-offs.  I don't suppose Morning gets to put up her heels with a martini in hand and Ravel playing in the background.   Still, when I got back into traffic and opened my mail and got word of two more meetings to go to next week, it was refreshing to think: it doesn't have to be this way.

(I edited and expanded this article for Cobb Landmark's fall newsletter, and posted it on this blog:  What "Talking Walls" Told a Teacher.) 

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