One of my favorite opening lines in a movie comes from "Out of Africa." Meryl Streep, as Karen Blixen, begins by saying, "I had a farm in Africa." I have had a life-long love affair with the continent of Africa, although I've never been there. Maybe that's why. But several friends who have spent time there, and still do, also love it. Someday I will visit, I'm certain, but that's not what this post is about. It's about my farmhouse in Ansel.
Ansel is the name of a township in north central Minnesota. I bought a farmhouse there in 1990. I read a real estate ad for it and was taken with the description of its porches. I resisted looking for a couple of weeks, as it was fifteen miles from the nearest town and I wasn't certain it was a wise move, to drive back and forth to work forty miles one way in the winter. I finally just had to go and see it. I was almost hoping I wouldn't like it, for practical reasons. But, I could sense myself looking forward to seeing it more and more as I got closer and closer. I drove a couple of miles down a dirt road, which turned into a dead-end road, and at the end of that I turned into a long driveway.
I immediately knew. I had come home.
I didn't even have to look inside to know that. The landscape told me. It was springtime and huge lilac bushes were blooming on all sides of the house. There was a hay shed, a clothesline, which I discovered later was draped in grape vines, and a chicken coop, complete with chickens. The house had two porches, one across the front and another, a screened-in one, tucked into the corner back by the kitchen. It wasn't the perfect place to build a fort. It Was the perfect fort.
As I wandered through the house, I discovered a bathroom had been added where there had once been an entryway. It had a door leading outside, to the porch across the front. The door had a window of frosted, etched glass, exactly like the door to my grandparent's house many years before. And Exactly as it had appeared in a dream a few weeks before; weeks before I knew this house existed or that I would be thinking about buying a house and leaving my rented house at the edge of town. A bit more wandering about and I opened the door leading upstairs. There was a green and cream wool carpet in a muted pattern going up the stairs and into the main bedroom. Again, Exactly as it appeared in my dream a few weeks before.
From the windows in the bedrooms upstairs, I looked out past a line of trees, a small chunk of woods, and across rolling fields in all directions. No neighbors, just grazing cattle from the ranches a few miles away and the small original farmhouse, now ramshackle and barely standing, out beyond the fence line. It was a delicious sight.
My son and I inherited a cat named Betty, a dog named Rex, four laying hens, and a rooster in a lilac bush. These were definitely free-range chickens. The people we bought the place from were retiring in New Mexico! They couldn't take the animals with and Betty and Rex were used to life in Ansel, so I was glad to have them stay right there. It was perfect.
We spent a wonderful decade there. Many kittens were born in the hay shed, a few jars of grape jelly were put up, a great tree house was built by my son and several forts as well. We found long poles in the pasture and a tee-pee was put up with old blankets. I crawled inside at my son's invitation and felt like I was seven again. Many magical things happened there. I will write about more of them as I go along. Monarch butterflies and sand hill cranes, a family of fox living in the old house, star-filled summer nights and walks with Rex under crisp, full moons.
A friend recently asked me if I regretted giving up my farmhouse in Ansel. I hesitated, because it was such a fine time and I wouldn't mind having a farmhouse again, but regret? No. If I hadn't made the choices I did, perhaps I'd have never made it to Santa Fe and my dream job at the art gallery and a life I had yearned for since I was a child. I might not have met the people I did. But, I did. And I just put out the word with another good friend, who has known me since the days in Ansel, that I may be looking again. I'm going to start paying a bit more attention to my dreams, and we shall see... I'll keep you posted.