I lowered the map to my thighs and followed Andrew’s stare out the car window. As usual, he drove while glancing at the road between prolonged inspections of passing farms and woods, wildlife, and in this case, wetlands. He came around a curve and pressed the brake because this wetland had a small For Sale sign poking out of the weeds.
We were fishing for possibilities on this July 2014 road trip to upstate New York, starting with Andrew’s job interview that brought us all the way from Georgia to Cobleskill—a town we’d never heard of before. Coming from thick humidity, we felt relieved by New York’s bearable heat and lighter air.
Driving hilly roads the day before, I had squinted into the sun at a partly framed new barn atop a hill. Climbing ladders and crossbeams were scores of men with beards and hats. The Amish community would raise that barn quickly, I suspected, so I wanted to drive past again today and see the progress.
We missed that turn, though, and took another one—a small detour with big results. Andrew eased the car past the For Sale wetland towards a dilapidated farmstead. Dilapidated might be generous. The stolid, white farmhouse seemed more likely to remain standing than the barn, so starved for attention you could see its ribs. Beside the rutted driveway, another For Sale sign hung above a cast iron cauldron large enough to hold a small child.
Thick cedar trees hid the house. A Winnebago hid the barn. A silver-haired, round-shouldered man stepped down from a rusty pickup truck. We introduced ourselves. “I’ll show you around a bit,” the farm owner said in his Long Island accent. “I’ve got my wife over in the top of another barn, and she’s probably roasting.”
Overgrown grass and burdock and wildflowers filled the space around the buildings, growing up among rusting truck carcasses and other junk. We wove around stacks of furniture and some tires in the large kitchen, following a path into the living room. Several bedrooms were impassable, so we peered through cracked doors. The barns, with scanty siding and brave, century-old beams, held unredeemed antique cars embedded in nameless junk.
We loved the place on sight.
Looking at this farm later, my dad quoted his father, who used to say, “The land makes a farm, not the buildings.” From the barns, a hay field sloped upwards, good soil covered with Queen Anne’s lace and blooming legumes ready for a second cutting. The view from the hilltop rolled and folded, trees and farms. Below, a beaver-plugged wetland wrapped around the base of a small woods succeeding in an old pasture. Something shifted in us like emerging onto a trail after whacking through thorny underbrush for miles. We couldn’t see where the trail went, but we found our surprised feet on it.
Four months later, we signed all the papers and (with the credit union) owned that farm.