Friday, August 14, 2009

Sue Weaver: North and South

My husband and I grew up in northern Indiana. However, as young adults seduced by Mother Earth News and the Whole Earth Catalog, we longed to live in a far more rural place. We narrowed it down to two locations: Minnesota (John’s choice) or the Ozarks (mine).

John won.

The first week in January of 1979, we packed our possessions in our pickup truck and moved to rural Pine County, Minnesota, midway between Minneapolis–St. Paul and Duluth. It was cold. During the first few days in our new home, I crashed through the crust on an enormous drift and barely floundered my way back out again (wear snowshoes when venturing from the beaten path) and we drove off — way off — the side of our county road (Northwoods snowplows have wings; no matter what they look like, county roads are not superhighways — the flattened areas to the sides cover ditches). Yet we quickly fell in love with Minnesota—her friendly people, deep silent winters, and life on the edge of the woods. We stayed for 24 glorious years before John grew weary of snow and ice and decided it was time to move south.

But wait. Minnesota was my home! I didn’t want to leave the 20 acres of heaven we called Pooka’s Pond, city convenience just 60 miles away, the East Central Library system, and my friends. But we did.

John traveled to the Ozarks in 2001 to buy land; I stayed home and fed the horses. He chose 30 acres in the southern Ozarks near Mammoth Spring, Arkansas; bought and installed a mobile home; and had fences built.

We left Minnesota on May 17, 2002, one day after my fifty-fifth birthday, along with our worldly goods, 7 dogs and a cat, and a convoy of three horse trailers carrying 12 horses. Twenty-four weary hours and 900 grueling miles later, we pulled into the driveway of the place we’d already christened Windhaven.

Rocks! Rocks and more rocks! We were perched atop a barren hill, and the heat was oppressive! I took one look and burst into tears.

For the next few years, even thinking “Minnesota” elicited more tears. I mourned birch trees, deep snow, and the cliffs along Lake Superior. I missed hearing loons cry at dusk on the nearby lake and the rustle of wild goose wings as they barely cleared our home. Now 150 miles from the nearest Barnes & Noble or vegetarian restaurant (we are equidistant from Little Rock, Memphis, and Springfield, Missouri) and in an area where it’s hard for outsiders to fit in, I felt isolated and blue beyond belief.

But gradually things changed.

I discovered sheep; beautiful sheep. Then: goats. This land is goat heaven: brush to browse, rocks to keep hooves in the pink, and mild winters that don’t freeze ears. They were happy. I began seeing things through their eyes.

And the land drew me in. We’re perched atop the highest ridge in northern Sharp County; to the west we can see across three distant ridges, the farthest one 30 miles away. The view at sundown, when mist creeps into the hollows and the sun sets beyond the far distant ridge, can almost stop your heart. I walked through our woods and learned the names of the wild plants growing on our ridge and how to use them as medicinal herbs. And the rocks? Geodes, some of them, with sparkling quartz points inside, and minerals like calcite and galena!

The Ozarks aren’t heaven, but I’ve come to love it here. I’ve learned to cope with blazing, sultry Southern heat; tarantulas; and hard-biting horse flies. While I still miss Minnesota’s deep winters, I also appreciate the lack of snow and cold that makes it possible to do chores in a sweatshirt and shorts in March. I’ve learned that every hole-in-the-wall café in the Ozarks serves heavenly biscuits for breakfast and (vegetarian) pinto beans and cornbread that almost make you weep. I’ve learned that natives are wary of newcomers, but they do come around. It’s a pretty nice place to live. And I can say “Minnesota” without crying.

Would I go back? I don’t know. I want to — but what about my animal friends? Snoods to keep my goats’ ears from freezing (these are GRITS goats, “goats raised in the South,” you know)? A sweater for my water buffalo? I miss the North so much I can taste it. But maybe now the Ozarks are home.

Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then her work has appeared in major horse periodicals, including The Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, Chronicle of the Horse, Flying Changes, Horseman’s Market, Arabian Horse Times, The Appaloosa News, The Quarter Horse Journal, Horse’N Around, and The Brayer. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.

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