Memorial Day 1968, four dozen years ago, I stood on this hill among peach trees in full
bloom, gazing with my friends into the distance. The great northern forest was the closest neighbor. That suited us. Fresh from the riots in Washington, D.C., we envisioned a
future on these acres, its open fields, woods, rickety house, barn, and outbuildings. At 23,
I wanted to live my life as a poem right here, in a loving community.
FOR THAT PINKISH HAZE ACROSS THE ORCHARD,
TEN THOUSAND BLOSSOMS ON A WIDOW’S PEAK,
WE FORSOOK THE REVOLUTION AND BOUGHT THE FARM.
The widow Rosie Franklin held our mortgage. We were her Social Security for ten years:
$26,000, hard earned. The locals, rumor had it, thought “the hippies got taken,” but we
were as pleased with Rosie’s 1937 Home Comfort wood kitchen range as she was with her
all-electric apartment in town. She told us that Forest, her husband, had collapsed in front
of that very stove. Winters were hard: the two of them, alone in the drafty house, a few
cows in their stanchions, no other families on the last-plowed, winding dirt road.
She said Forest was gifted; he could fix any engine, but he’d never wanted to farm. His
last truck was parked in the garage we’d turn into a living room for eight or ten of us, with
a stage for plays.
Rosie must have been about 70, as I am now, when she buried Forest and left. Though
she missed her peaches and the pippins “at the end of the mowing,” she never considered
ON THIS ROCK WHICH ARCHES UP
LIKE THE BACKBONE ON SOME ANIMAL,
THE FACE OF WHICH WE MAY NEVER KNOW,
I VOW TO LOVE YOU.
I’d married the land, and a band of friends, before my man. Richard Coutant was an
urbane rustic: witty, erudite, old-fashioned. When we met in 1978, I had a five-year-old
daughter, Oona. They loved each other. He showed us slides of East Bethel: the octagonal
one-room school he’d attended, his father’s failing general store embedded in snow, his
sister and him decked out for Easter in the crazy clothes his mother sewed. When he
unpacked his books, the floorboards bowed.