Friday, August 3, 2012

Rock Stacking

                 Every now and then life throws us a curve, often with an unexpected lesson. A surprise. Oh yes, there are those moments when the lesson is pretty profound—a traffic accident, a diagnosis of a bad malady, the loss of a loved one. No. This was one of those little gems in life that inspires great gratitude, thankfulness, and inspiration. We (my brother and I) sold our parents' home place in 2008. It’s a small 6-acre parcel, the last of its kind in an urban area, the remaining acres of the original 1890 homestead. The gratitude comes from knowing that the couple who bought the property have restored it in a manner that has honored our parents. The thankfulness comes from finding buyers who purchased the property as their residence rather than to develop it. The inspiration that I brought home was an awakening for me, a fresher look at life and gardening. I get chocked up even as I write.

I had a rather emotional week. Because the main event of the week involved another couple and to maintain their privacy, I won’t go into detail about what brought us together this week. Nonetheless I had an opportunity to visit my home place where I grew up. We sold the property in 2008 after owning it for 48 years.  Here are some of the last photos I took of the place before we turned it over to new owners.

One of the first improvements dad made to the property was to built an acre-sized pond used to store irrigation water. Using the pond as his water source, he gardened, planted fruit trees ranging from apple trees, to peach, pear, apricot and cherry. He had a nice collection of berries: goose berries, strawberries, black berries and grapes, even wild plums and rhubarb. As kids we swam in the lake on summer afternoons, ice skated in the winter, fished for supper. The pond sustained a plethora of wildlife from from frogs to Canada geese, and even rare for the area nesting wood ducks. 

As he aged, dad became more set in his ways. A child of Great Depression when his family nearly starved (as my mom once recounted), he became a saver. He saved and collected everything. Everything. I guess after watching those horrible TV reality shows, one might conclude that he was a hoarder. I’d just like to say that he was a saver; in his mind everything he stashed would be of some use someday. In reality every building was crammed full of junk, precious necessary stuff: the old barn, the falling down chicken house, two garages, even the old farmhouse, all stuffed beyond the windowsills with stuff.

Mom passed in January 1990 and the next year dad suffered a massive heart attack, requiring double bi-pass surgery, and he was never the same. Forced to live oxygen (he was a heavy smoker), he retreated to his old house and let his place fall further in disrepair. He died in 1998 three days after I moved him closer to me and put him in nursing home. He was at the end of his road.

For the next 10 years we held onto the old place and then the day came when we knew that we had to sell it. The buyer had wanted that little piece of property for nearly 3 decades. At one time while he held discussions with dad about buying the place, he wrote a contract, but dad refused to sell.

Today the new owners are living their dream, as the Mr. said to me: “We live with dirt under our fingernails.” Before we sold the property, we removed all of the old buildings except for house. Tons of  stuff were hauled off, leaving a clean pallet for the new owners. 

Of course I worried silently about what they would do to the place. I heard via the grapevine some of the things they were doing. Did they leave the poppies that bloomed along the driveway year after year after year unattended, but always faithful?

What about the Wedding Vail Spirea? Did they rip out the decades old bushes?

 The poppies and the spirea remain. As do the 3 pine trees that were barely 6 feet tall when we moved in in 1960 that now tower high above the garden nearly touching the clouds. The 100 year old apple trees are laden with apples The grape vines, the wild plums, the lilacs, the ancient cottonwood, the pear tree and the cherry trees. All are there groomed and pruned, tended, and loved. And cherished. And appreciated.

They have created a garden of beauty and peacefulness. In creating their new garden, rather than stripping away the old, they have smoothed out the rough, overgrown edges, repaired and fixed, enhanced, improved, and added their own wonderful touch. They tore down the old house and built a new one reminiscent of the 100 year old farm house that I grew up in. They have more dreams. A lavender farm, bringing back the honey bees that dad once had, more garden, maybe some hens. Dad had hens. Maybe a couple of goats. I had horses, which brings me to the most amazing part of my visit--their horse. A modern sculpture of horse she called The Avatar. Brought another tear to my cheek. 

They showed me a little stack of stuff: an old car spring, a frog eye sprinkler--dad used dozens of frog eyes to water--bits and pieces and scraps of things left behind, a little crescent wrench, an old rusty horse shoe. Anything that they find they add to the little pile that she will fashion into a totem. Now is that neat or what!

At the closing for the property, I joked about writing visitation rights into the contract and we were warmly invited to visit, but life me carried me forward and while I'd think about the home place often, I resisted visiting because I wanted them to have the time, the space, the freedom to do what they wanted with out me or my family hovering over them reminding them of how that tree came to be or what used to be over there, or how dad used to do things. No. They had to discover and create on their own.

They dredged the lake, restoring it to a new healthy ecosystem. The grapevine had told me they had drained the lake and dug it out, so I worried about the fish that dad had stocked it with, but the Mrs. proudly announced that not a fish was lost was lost during the drudging process.

One thing I noticed as we walked the property were stacks of rocks. I have seen rock staking in pictures, but not so much in gardens, so I looked up the tradition of rock stacking. I found this web site (click) that explains the tradition. Then I understood why they stack rocks. I know that they have lived in the southwest where rock stacking is a Hopi Indian tradition that they have brought to their new garden. Stacked rocks ward of evil spirits or bring luck. I have started my first little stack by my water garden in the courtyard. I love the look of rock stacks in the garden randomly placed, a surprise along a garden path, adding a certain intrigue to the garden.

And so this week we were brought together under odd circumstances, but as the Mrs. commented as we parted ways, things happen for a reason, and we said our goodbyes knowing that we had already become friends. I left  grateful that they shared their home with me, thankful that the right people have the home place, satisfied that they are good stewards of the land, and inspired to take my garden to new heights. I have started by stacking rocks. 


  1. A wonderful post Ann, that's left me feeling warm inside :o)

  2. Aw Ann that was a great post - I must say I felt a bit choked up just reading it - glad it all turned out well in the end.

  3. Ann, this might be your finest post! I loved it. We all have to move on and how nice it is that such a fine couple got your old home place and are taking such pride in it. It makes me wonder about the house I grew up in and how its new owners treat it. I love the stacking rocks idea. Makes me want to stack some up right now! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Ann, I was deeply impressed of your story about your parents and your old home place. How nice that the new owners have kept the good things, that must give you a warm feeling.

  5. Oh my goodness, I've got tears in my eyes reading this. You'll always have your memories.

  6. Oh my goodness Ann, what a treasure those new people found, but they shined it up so it still resembled the original. You must have had an amazing time growing up there, it brings me back to my Grandparents place, and the joy I found there.

    My Grandmother was a keeper also, she had outbuildings with bits of string, clothing, pots, you name it. She wasn't a hoarder, just someone who had lived through the depression.

    As for the rock stacking, I have started to do that since this spring, it enlivens something deep in my heart to see them popping up all over the place.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

  7. Lovely photos and interesting reading your post. I want to go out and start the stacking rock tradition as well.

  8. What a lovely post and I am so glad you found your buyers and they have have put their own mark on the garden without losing the past.

    I love the rock staking and might have to start one of my own.

  9. Dear Ann,
    Thank you. Your visit has inspired me to go see my childhood home. My dad built the house in 1954 and did all the work himself. I love the way you honored your old homestead.
    Looking forward to reading your blog and getting to know you.

  10. It must feel good to see your father's property being restored. And I love the rock stacks! I saw this often on the hiking trails of Sedona AZ and left some behind myself, wondering how long before someone knocked them down. I think I'll stack a few of my beach rocks.

  11. I loved reading the story of your parents' home! The poppies are certainly lovely!
    I'm glad you have a bit more time before the alarm clocks shouts, "Time for school, Ann!"

  12. This is such a sweet post, Ann. It's something I think we can all relate to, as we know that when our parents pass, that also is the end of an era. I dread those kind of changes for our family. I think it's wonderful that you found the PERFECT buyers for your father's family homeplace. I think he would be very pleased, and it's so nice for you to know that you can comfortably visit there now without feeling like an intruder.

    The photos are lovely, as are your descriptions. I think the rock stacking idea sounds neat. I've seen that done in a few places in NC, but I never knew what it meant. I'm glad to know. :)

    I hope you have a great weekend!

    Denise at Forest Manor

    P.S. Congrats on your new grandbaby.