Stop for a while on a narrow stretch of New England farmland.
First, you notice the smell. The land still remembers being a dairy farm under your great-great-grandfather’s hands, and it offers up the smell of manure and meadow grass like a tour guide, whispering to close your eyes and let your imagination run free. After a moment of deep breathing, your nostrils are coated in a layer of fine dust. You sneeze once, and like turning a key in a lock, the land opens up to you; you can smell the layers in the dust. Wood shavings and rust, oil and old books, one hundred years of structures, tools, and machines decaying and being lovingly restored.
If you stand long enough between the garage, the garden, and the retired Massey Ferguson tractor, you’ll meet Grandpa. He will come around a corner, limping slightly but smiling when he sees you, or he’ll reveal himself with the soft clanking of tools in the garage. He’ll be wearing a sun-faded T-shirt with holes around the collar, navy blue twill pants, and once-beige boots that long ago married the gray dust. Grandpa’s presence is as much a certainty here as the presence of the old garage.
The garage is made up of four long sections. It starts next to the road and runs the whole length of the driveway, each section sloping down to accommodate the slight hill. Its sides are made up of wide wood paneling, white paint long since peeled away to reveal the warped, silvery wood itself, gnarled by the rain and sun. Its floors are rough concrete, eroded by over one hundred years of tramping work boots but still as sturdy as the Berkshire Mountains.
Inside, the organized chaos of the garage boasts farm tools older than you are (sometimes even older than Grandpa is), plus an odd assortment of nuts, bolts, screwdrivers, utility knives, rubber tubing, glass panels, and boxes of car parts that were decommissioned decades ago. The air seems to hang still, heavy with the smell of iron and rust, but if you turn on the single light bulb tucked high in the corner, you can see the dust motes dancing and curling playfully through the air. The light bulb itself is older than you are, but it refuses to burn out, flickering to life with a grumpy buzzing noise each time you catch the pull switch and ask it to light.
Grandpa is an old-school farmer who starts at dawn and doesn’t head up the hill to his house for dinner until dusk. You are disorganized and scrappy, popping in at odd hours after work and on weekends. In the winter, when the sun slinks below the mountain and the light starts fading at three in the afternoon, that solitary bulb in the garage marks out your workstation, radiating enough light and heat to slip your gloves off and mend horse blankets or stock first aid kits. This time of year, the humming old light bulb has less work to do, because even though the sun still kisses the mountain goodnight before dinnertime, it doesn’t get fully dark until nine o’clock. Summer gives you many gifts, but long hours spent on this property are the best ones.
You take a final deep breath, then shake yourself out of this brief moment of rest. As you inhale, you feel the dust settle on the back of your tongue and sink into your bones. From her paddock, past the old shed, the retired tractor, and the road that wanders up to Grandpa’s house, your horse lifts her head and nickers to you, a low, contented sound that says: welcome home.