Yesterday, Zoë and I went for a walk in the woods, back to the land where our farmhouse once stood. It’s always a bittersweet retreat for me. The land calls me back with a familiarity and comfort that nothing else provides. Cascading memories always return: walking through the cool stillness of the woods with our three dogs; planting gardens abundant with food and fields dancing with wildflowers; walking, swaying, labouring in those familiar hills for the birth of my son; stoking the hungry belly of the woodstove, the house filled with its rich, soothing heat; friends gathered in the kitchen with their children, preparing a feast of newly picked vegetables from the garden.
This land, these hills, hold more memories: the kids’ dad filling canvases with paint, capturing the beauty and fragility that surrounded us and those he loved; an infant son who would fall asleep only when held in arms, gently swaying to the lullaby quality of Joni Mitchell’s Blue album; snow sparkling on the hills and piling up the back of the kitchen door; the scent of wood smoke beckoning us back from a walk in those snow-filled woods to the house atop the hill. Unparalleled happiness and with it, ineffable sadness at the dismantling of a marriage, a family, and the bones of an old house. That’s life. So sweet and so damn hard all at the same time.
There’s an ache in the ground where the house once stood. Over the years new growth has sprouted and camouflaged the rubble, the scarred land. So completely that the only markers to identify the farmhouse’s existence, barely visible through the tangle of overgrowth, are a defiant grandmother of an apple tree, an old shed built by Zoë, aged 4 and her Pa, and pieces of a tree house, still clinging to the tree and to the memories it once sheltered. But those of us who lived there and those who visited can find where the house stood without those markers. In a way that only joy imprinted on a heart can lead you home.
We returned to photograph Zoë’s “special tree”, an otherworldly spot captured in many old photos. She as a small girl standing on tip toes to reach its lowest branch, and later tall enough to climb it and retreat with a journal. A tree whose beauty, forever adored, was captured in paint by her dad before his passing. And we brought friends with us—two incredible people, a mother and daughter, who hold sacred all that these woods have to share.
I hope there’s a place you can return to, by land or by heart, that fills you with a comfort like no other.