A&E Columns

This must be the place: ‘A sunbeam’s shining through his hair, fear not to have a care’

The Hayford Road is in Clinton County, New York. Garret K. Woodward photo The Hayford Road is in Clinton County, New York. Garret K. Woodward photo

It’s 9:54 a.m. Tuesday. I’m sitting at the old wooden kitchen table at my parents’ farmhouse in rural Upstate New York, within close range of the Canadian border, just a few farm fields away from the mighty, ancient Lake Champlain. 

Behind me I can hear the coffee pot burping away. I’m already on my second cup, but I’ll need a quick fill-up to get through the rest of this here newspaper column. On the floor nearby our family’s sleepy golden retriever, Madison. On the tables in the next room two antique clocks ticking away at different rhythms with somewhat accuracy.

Outside, I can hear the sound of my father rumbling into the small dirt and gravel driveway, his rusty Nissan Frontier pickup truck coming to a halt in front of the tin roof barn behind the farmhouse. He emerges from the vehicle and I know he’s now in the house because I can hear him chopping some wood in the back den to keep the stove going and the house toasty amid the cool North Country air of an impending fall.

Upstairs, my girlfriend is sound asleep after a long journey Monday. She’s resting in the guestroom right above the den. The room is filled with antique furniture and toys left behind by my nine-year-old niece who visits the house often. There’s also dusty boxes of mine and old articles from the local newspaper yellowed with time from a former chapter of my life living in the guestroom before I took this position at The Smoky Mountain News in August 2012.

Peering out the old windows of the guestroom, the view is of my mother’s vast garden in the backyard, somewhat dormant now and until next spring when her endless array of perennials bloom and fresh strawberries emerge, only to end up on the kitchen table freshly washed and ready for consumption. To the right of the garden is the small pond where local frogs and backwoods crickets converge — the noise of their presence familiar and soothing at night with the windows open.

Not far from the pond is my father’s ever-evolving wood pile. Old stumps and tree branches he’s collected over the summer, as well as an array of wood from unknown origins that find their way into the back of his pickup truck that rumbles in and out of the dirt and gravel driveway. Next to the pile is one of three stone walls he spent the better part of the last decade constructing — stone by stone, day by day, year by year. His legacy, in essence and in his own words.

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The guestroom also consists of a big brass bed, a family heirloom from my late great-grandmother’s cabin on Lake Champlain. Florence was her name and she lived to be 103 before passing away peacefully in 1999. I was just about 14 years old at that point. I remember her fondly, her eccentricities and thick French-Canadian accent from a century of existence on the border in the shadow of Quebec and Ontario.

Before you leave the guestroom and head down the stairs to the back den there’s a door to a storage closet. More dusty boxes and forgotten trinkets we all didn’t have the heart to toss away or sell. But, for a year in 2009 or so, I lived in that storage closet. I was 24 and an underemployed writer. It was the only escape hatch I had to be alone, a place in the farmhouse to hide out and write to my heart’s content next to a small window overlooking the dirt and gravel driveway.

At this moment, I can hear the woodstove crackling with fire and warmth. I can also smell a little bit of that smoky allure that haunts my memory, happily. The image of a woodstove and that beloved scent conjures other images, most vividly the back den at my grandparents’ house in my native Rouses Point, New York.

I would walk in the back door of their home and my late grandfather would be watching some football game on the TV in the corner, the small potbelly stove roaring in the middle of the room. I’d say hello and join him on the couch, a cold Labatt Blue in hand. We’d catch up about life, nothing and everything and everything in-between. I think of him often whenever I’m out on the road, usually under some starry night sky in some faraway place where I’m on assignment — far from home, but the distance that much closer within my cherished memories.

What’s mentioned in the previous paragraphs are what I think of when I think of, well, “home.” I’m a lifelong rambler, one of endless childlike wonder and curiosity. I’m lucky to still retain that sense of wonderment and wanderlust. Don’t lose it. Hold it tightly.

Lately, I think about how much longer I can actually come home to the North Country to see, hear and smell all of those people, places and things I’ve hung proudly on the walls of my mind. No matter, it is what it is, truly — cherish the past, embrace the present, don’t worry about the future. Regardless, be grateful and steadfast in your intent.

As of last count, I’ve lived in Western North Carolina for 11 years and a couple months. It is my home and where I plan live for the foreseeable future. Although my quaint Waynesville apartment may sometimes feel like that farmhouse storage closet, it is still where I choose to lay my head at night, surrounded by shelves of books, vinyl records and a handful of guitars I mess around with on the front porch. Onward.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

Leave a comment

1 comment

  • Love it G!!!!

    posted by Kathy Woodward

    Tuesday, 09/26/2023

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