“How did you end up with a farm?” people ask me. “Has it been in your family for a long time?” “Do you live on it?” “What do you grow?”
“Well,” I say, sheepishly. “We don’t. The farm is kind of like a cottage.”
But it’s not at all. Before the farm we had a cottage up on Sparrow Lake near Muskoka. It used to be a summer camp that was then left abandoned. We lived in one of the old cabins, which we shared with my aunt and uncle and cousins, and all of our relatives lived in other bungalows around the lake. Our two families would take turns coming up for the weekend since we couldn’t all fit at once. Even just our family was a tight squeeze. But I have only fond memories of my brothers and I nestling into bed with Grandma in one of the two bedrooms. Almost every time we arrived for a weekend, there would be a blank space where an appliance had once been, maybe the toaster or the fridge. It wasn’t hard for someone to get in. In fact, I don’t recall if there was even a lock on the door.
The cabins were falling apart, but as a kid I didn’t notice. I was too busy playing with snapping turtles and building things out of sticks and running down to the lake to catch up to my brothers. At some point, everyone started moving out of the bungalows and building houses. AC units were put in. Big screen TV’s and DVD collections. Motorboats replaced canoes and their engines ripped through the quiet. Some neighbors even built swimming pools.
When I was thirteen, my grandmother was diagnosed with colon cancer. While in the hospital waiting for surgery, Grandma kept talking about how all she wanted to do was to sit on the porch at the cottage, looking out onto Sparrow Lake, listening to the loons and the whistle of the train. She would then realize that the cottage wasn’t like that anymore. The lake was now polluted, the motorboats drowned out the loons, the view was disrupted by big fancy houses. And it took forever to get there because of all the traffic. It was a lost paradise. Sitting by Grandma’s side in the hospital, my mom promised herself that if Grandma got through this, she was going to find a place for her like the old cottage.
Grandma did get through the surgery. And Mom remembered what she’d promised herself. After she took Grandma to her first chemotherapy treatment, she drove to Georgetown to meet with a real estate agent. It was a cold, snowy day in February.
“I’m looking for a small, peaceful place, close to Toronto,” Mom said.
“I’m going to show you a few properties,” the agent replied. “The first one isn’t at all what you’re looking for, but I want you to see the different types of places that are close to the city.”
This first property was a 15-acre plot of land in County Wellington, just one hour outside of Toronto. The interior of the house was far from my mother’s simple tastes, but she knew that would be easy to fix. Mom fell in love with the land and the structures on it—the big hill, the pond, the stone wall, the stables, the barn, all of which were covered in snow. The next day she put in an offer and it was ours.
When Grandma was well into chemotherapy, Mom finally took her out to the farm. She settled Grandma in an easy chair on the wraparound porch with a view of the pond, covered her in a blanket, and went in the house to make her a cup of tea. By the time she returned, Grandma was fast asleep.
Grandma woke up an hour later a different person. Rejuvenated. They both felt that the farm had healing properties. Now every time Grandma goes out to the farm, she has her tradition: she lies down on the porch, Mom covers her in a blanket, goes in to make her a cup of tea, and comes out to find Grandma sleeping soundly like she never can in the city.
I’ll admit: I wasn’t happy when my mom told me she was selling the cottage and buying a farm. I thought it was a crazy idea. All I could think of was: no lake, no forest, no cousins next door. But now I wouldn’t give up the farm for anything. After many naps on the porch myself, I can attest that there is something in that country air which does us wonders. I see the vision my mom had, her foresight. She was looking for a sanctuary for her mother and recreated the bygone days at the cottage, but she also did more. My mom saw an opportunity to preserve a piece of beauty and sustenance and history in the changing Canadian landscape, a piece of something you cannot find in city or suburb.
Since we got the farm, we have dreamed of digging. We don’t want merely to enjoy the view. We want to get dirt under our nails. We want to go back to the basics, to live closer to how my grandparents lived in Hungary, my grandma who sewed all her clothes and my grandfather who owned a flourmill. We want to eat food we’ve grown, be cleansed by a swim in the pond, take pleasure in the sleep that comes so easily after a hard day’s work. When someone asks me what we grow on our farm, I want to hand them a homegrown tomato or apple or carrot and say, “Here, try this.”
This beautiful post comes to us from writer and photographer, Alisha Kaplan. For more info about Alisha, visit: http://alishakaplan.com/