My “Sanctum Sanctorum”

It’s an unseasonably mild evening in late March.  I’m standing in the field on top of the hill overlooking the lower pond on my parents’ farm. Above the western horizon, the constellation Orion is setting and will not be seen in the eastern sky again until the early predawn hours in November.  A gentle breeze blows from the south.  The change of seasons is in the air as I listen to peepers, tiny frogs that do just what their name says, peep loudly, by the hundreds. The warm wind carries their high-pitched songs up the hill to my ears as I feel an incredible sense of inner peace.  Off in the distance, in a wooded section of the farm, I can hear the lowly cry of the whippoorwill. Standing in the dark, my senses are all working together in unison to absorb the serenity that surrounds me.

“Heaven,” “God’s country,” “Sanctum Sanctorum”—these are just a few of the nicknames I have for the farm my adopted parents purchased in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in the late 1970s. Even with all of the travels under my belt, there is really only one place where I find a sense of peace like no other—the family farm. It has been a blessing in my life and has given me countless unforgettable memories and experiences that most people on this earth will never be fortunate enough to know for themselves.

In the summer months, years before the present-day house was built, my adopted father and I would go out to the property almost every weekend, and on many occasions we would camp there overnight. I spent countless hours helping my father dig postholes, put in fence posts, and install wire fencing. If we weren’t repairing or building fences, we were cutting firewood, digging up thistles or clearing areas of land that had been taken over by brush.  After a few hours of work in the morning, my father would release me to “go be a boy.”  Running through the fields, as grasshoppers shot out of the tall grass and butterflies fluttered lazily from wild flower to wild flower, I would make my way down to the pond and the gurgling creek that ran next to it.  There, I would spend hours exploring and catching salamanders, frogs, snakes, and crawdads.  Learning about nature in my very own outdoor classroom, I grew to love the wonders and living organisms that were all around me. In the warm summer evening my father and I would sit under the moon by a campfire and watch a small group of deer cautiously walk out of the nearby forest and begin munching on the juicy clover at the edge of the field. Together, we would observe them without making a sound as they filled their bellies. And then, just like that, a tail would quickly flip up and with flashes of white; they would bound back off into the moonlit woods they had emerged from.

In autumn, the mountain range directly behind the farm would start to change. It was as though God Himself was dripping a box of melting crayons upon it from above.  Barely noticeable at first, various hues would start appearing at the top of the ridgeline.  Day after day the vivid colors—reds, oranges, yellows and browns would slowly ooze down the mountain until they finally appeared in the trees around our fields.  These were some of my favorite times of the year. The beautiful blue skies, pleasant temperatures and colorful tapestry of the deciduous forest made for nearly perfect days. Walking through fields of grass that were preparing for the cold winter months ahead, one could smell the distinct aromas of autumn—goldenrod, the season’s final cutting of hay in a neighboring farmer’s field, and the almost pungent smell of leaves beginning to decompose on the forest floor. Animals such as squirrels and groundhogs were preparing in their own ways for the lean months ahead by storing acorns and fattening up. The sound of crickets announced the coming changes with their chirps, which became slower and more intermittent as the days grew shorter and colder.

In the winter months, the farm seemed to be in its own state of hibernation. The ponds would freeze over, and if it stayed cold long enough, we would venture out onto them, pretending to be hockey players or figure skaters. The bare brown mountain and colorless fields would wait patiently to be painted in white. And then, almost magically, the snows would arrive, leaving the fields and mountain behind us frosted and frozen. In the winter, work was kept to a minimum. The piercing wind out of the north, or as my dad called it, “the Hawk,” could make being outside brutal. If there was work to be done, it was done quickly and efficiently, or else you were going to pay for it with numb fingers and toes.  Instead of doing work that could be saved for the warmer months, we partook in the sorts of activities that should be done in winter—building snowmen and snow forts, having snowball fights, or pulling a sled up the hill to whiz back down it again and again, laughing and screaming.

Which brings me back to standing on top of that hill listening to the peepers.  As it always does, the promise of new life and spring returns to the farm. Newborn lambs and goats jump and frolic behind me in the barnyard that had lay frozen for months.   Now the smells of animals and manure fill the air. The once dormant grasses and trees begin to awaken. The mountain starts to turn various shades of green, except in the opposite direction. Each day, from the bottom to the top, the budding of new leaves slowly climbs up the slope until it has been completely cloaked in a beautiful blanket of emeralds.  New life abounds and all is right with the world after the long cold winter.

To this day, I still look forward to my visits to the farm. When I walk through the same fields that a much younger version of myself used to run through, I reminisce fondly about all the wonderful times I’ve had there—times that will always remain near and dear to my heart.  I know how fortunate I am to have been a part of the piece of heaven on earth, which has become my holy of holies, my Sanctum Sanctorum.


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