The View From Straw’s

South Hill Farm 4

Here, two fluttering counties are taking a wink,
up amphitheaters, right and left,
bending over hillocks into empty air,
rope-walking birds skim past beneath.

The woods run down below,
across creek lines,
slithering like snakes, hobo blankets
molting onto brown remembrances,
against the powers of hayfield and wood.
The gypsy moth has crept with needlesome jaw
across the green world fading like a scrim.

Murder hides behind our little tract,
he’s a bony devil, knuckle lumps
rapping his frying pan, while underneath,
the crack of terror burns.

Up country the furious beasts of pandemonium
wildly devour each others tails,
and seesaws rise and fall across Galactic gulfs,
a bucket of water rises in the Malacca Strait,
upping the level in Chile, and spattering on our shore.

But for the moment, our premiums’ paid,
we hang transfixed up the tattered air
where merely to sleep and wake is to walk through miracles.
Higher than eagles, here comes luck.
Making a bargain with the hungry firmament.

© Andrew Glaze 2015, from his book Overheard in a Drugstore

In the late 1970’s — 90’s, our family getaway consisted of eleven acres of grassy hillside in Pine Plains, New York. Two hours north of Manhattan, on the border of Duchess and Columbia Counties, the back-to-nature lifestyle there provided a Henri David Thoreau style experience that we enjoyed for its peace and simplicity.   After a year or two of tent camping, we purchased four 10’ x 10’ wooden cabins from a defunct children’s camp. One was to be used for spare parts, two were for my parents, and one belonged to me and was set apart from the others.  As soon as the cabins were delivered by flatbed truck and mounted on cinder blocks, my father showed me how to replace a roof, door, an entire window, and glass panes. He’d learned these skills back in the early 1950’s. (To learn more about that, read the poem “Bill Where Are You?”).

 Happy in our simple cabins, free of electricity, plumbing, and phones, we gradually added a metal tool shed, a pavilion of slender tree-trunks topped by fiberglass roof panels to shelter our picnic table, a rock walled outdoor grill, and a free standing outdoor sink that drained through a hose into the ground. My father liked to joke that he planned to write a book on “Chainsaw Carpentry”, and became quite creative at it.

 In his 2002 book Remembering Thunder, my father named one of the chapters “Stissing’s Children”.  This was because Mount Stissing was the highest point around Pine Plains and we could see the top of it from our property. The simple fact that the first poem in that chapter is titled “Thoreau Again” explains my father’s viewpoint.  Southhill Farm became a retreat where he happily worked on his poetry, tried organic gardening, literally “primed the pump” before drawing water, listened to Mets baseball games over a battery powered radio, watched star formations at night in complete darkness, and invited favorite neighbors to join us at our picnic table for a glass of wine with grilled steak, corn on the cob, and vegetables from the garden. Eventually, my parents insulated their main cabin and added a wood burning stove to it.  After that, they were able to stay longer in the fall, and visit earlier in the spring.

When the time came to install a manual water pump, we discovered that the local Water Douser / Deviner was recommended as the starting point.  He arrived for the appointment looking as normal as my grandfather, pulled out a V-shaped tree branch, held one end in each hand, pointed it towards the sky, and started roaming the property. When water was near, the branch would fight his efforts to keep it pointing upwards and twist itself downwards. “That one’s about 15 yards underground” he’d pronounce, “Now let’s see where another one crosses it, to increase the volume”. At least once, he had to cut a new tree branch because the old one had wrestled itself into shreds. After his departure, each of us cut a V-shaped tree branch and wandered the property hoping to discover we had untapped skills for dousing.  I concluded I had potential.

The acreage behind our land was the fly in the balm of our peaceful existence. The owners were year round residents who enjoyed hunting, with a son who’d drive a noisy all-terrain-vehicle into their back woods to shoot target practice. The foothills around us would reverberate the gun shots like a timpani drum at Carnegie Hall. My softhearted parents immediately nailed “No Hunting, Private Property” signs all around our borders.  Bambi and his friends ate our flowers, vegetables, fruit from our trees, and were undeterred by organic efforts to discourage them, but we still loved them.

Straw and Debbie were a young creative couple from Manhattan with a property uphill from ours. Everybody enjoyed Straw’s goofball personality, and Debbie was happy to join the ride. They also had cabins and placed them at the highest point on their hill with a view overlooking the countryside. I remember they had something to do with film production and eventually decided California was the place to be. With that goal, one day they said their goodbyes, and headed West.  Only problem was, their overloaded truck soon began strewing belongings like breadcrumbs for Hansel and Gretel. They stopped, regrouped, and finally continued on their merry way.  Afterwards, Straw called one of our neighbors to give him an update on their misadventures.  Word passed down the grapevine and everybody agreed, “Sounds just like something that would happen to Straw”.  He and Debbie promptly became local legends, and we never saw them again.

By the late ‘80’s my parents had moved to Miami and the trek to upstate New York became a very long one.  By the mid-90’s my brother and I both had children and lived in Pennsylvania.  We brought them with us to Southhill Farm several times to share the experience we’d always enjoyed.  My daughter now says I referred to Pine Plains as “The Country” so often that she thought that was the name of the town. Eventually though, it became too much for all of us to make the long drive to get there. My parents were growing older, and so were my brother and I.  The property was eventually sold, but I know the times he spent at Southhill Farm were some of the happiest of my father’s life.  At times I yearn for the simplicity of those days, remember a lilac tree I started from a single branch that was huge by the time we left, and ponder whether the town still has just one traffic light. My father preserved his memories as poems. I chose to preserve mine as photographs.

—E. Glaze

Southhill farm 3
Planting a fruit tree.
Southhill farm 4Behind our cabins. Andrew and Adriana Glaze in the foreground. The organic garden is on the right, with grape vines along the fence.

Southhill farm 7
Our campsite grew more sophisticated every year.  Adriana is standing by the “sink”.

Southhill farm 8
Reading a book.   On the right is our “icebox”. Behind my father, lying on the ground, are the boards that were used to create the pavilion roof shown in the previous photos.

Southhill Farm April 1986
Writing.
Sothhill farm 10
Napping.
Southhill farm 8
My brother (standing) and stepmom (sitting), before we had cabins at the bottom of the hill.
Southhill farm
And I became the queen of collecting wild flowers.

All photos are the property of Elizabeth Glaze and the Andrew Glaze Estate..

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