Established in the 1800’s, the small finger of land cradled a varied terrain. At the eastern end of the farm a rivulet wound through red clover pastures and stands of tall oaks. The middle ground was wooded, arched over with both young and mature fir, cedar, and pine. The small forest sheltered deer, grey squirrel, fox, coyote, raccoon, skunk, opossum, and even bear and mountain lions in search of water. Many birds, both native and migratory, traveled the tree tops —woodpeckers, jays, robins, hawks, turkey vultures, ravens and crows. Canada geese nested near the creek during spring flows.
Just beyond the woods, up over a green hummocked pasture, the farmhouse knelt in an old apple orchard. The well kept, two-story, white clapboard house had old bubbled glass and double hung windows framed by faded blue shutters. A gnarled elm leaned into the front porch. The house, more like a cottage, was squat, built on a low foundation of creek rock. A weathered shingle roof peaked up and over the dwelling. Ivy twined itself around the stone chimney. Chinese lanterns, hollyhocks and bleeding hearts grew in the dooryard where a double-dutch back door opened into a large kitchen. Big beams hung with drying flowers and herbs spanned a low pine ceiling. Baskets of ripe fruit and vegetables lined the pocked wooden floor. White cotton curtains hung in the windows. In one corner stood an original cream and green wood cook stove that warmed the drafty room on cold mornings. The chunky stove had four burners and an oven, which came in handy for cooking during the frequent power outages in winter. A round table and four chairs looked out to the orchard and the rivulet.
The kitchen opened into a long, narrow dining room which held only a table and chairs and an oak hutch. The room’s large window faced the garden. A bedroom and bath sat back under the eaves. French doors framed the entrance to the living room, bright with sunlight reflecting off the low cream ceiling. The room looked out to the front porch and the orchard beyond. Comfortable overstuffed furniture circled the simple stone fireplace. Deep chocolate chenille sofas and love seats rested on a flowered wool rug. Tucked back under the stairs was a small office area. Upstairs there were two bedrooms and a bath. A long low library which also served as a guest room fronted the house.
A few flagstone steps away from the back porch was a large garden that looked west to the Serpentine Mountains. Rather than being laid out row by row, the garden was a lush impressionistic tangle of flowers, herbs, and vegetables.
Emma stood under an umbrella of sunflowers squinting into the sun. She reached up, taking the prickly stalk into her hand, which caused the heavy flower head to shower black seeds on her silver streaked hair. Her strong legs flexed as she snipped the flower and put it in her basket. As she turned towards the gate a large green and gold dragonfly hovered before her, then lighted on the sunflower she had just cut. Slowly, she extended her hand, the Emerald looked up at her and cocked its head. She hummed as she stroked its back, where delicate, copper wings met the long body. A moment of stillness, then the dragonfly levitated and was gone.
Three cats, a long-haired black one, a calico, and a tortoise shell, meowed at her feet. “It’s coming,” she told them as she closed the gate. Before going in, she paused to look at the orchard, the weighted branches bent with red and gold apples, the same trees that she had climbed each summer of her childhood. Every year when school was out her parents would travel from San Francisco to visit her aunt’s family in Green Valley, and Emma would be allowed to stay all summer. Every day, up with her cousins at dawn, they combed the vast mysteries of the farm, exploring its blackberry brambled tunnels, treetops and creek beds, its animals and insects.
In her early forties Emma had the opportunity to buy the farm after her aunt died. She’d been ready to leave her busy nurse/midwife practice in San Francisco. Green Valley and its familiar roots had called to her at the right moment. She’d loved her life at the farm the last fifteen years. Working out of the house and keeping her practice down to three days a week allowed her to have the time—although there was never enough—to care for the farm and garden and animals. A tremendous amount of work for a single woman but, she thought to herself, I wouldn’t change a thing...well, maybe one thing.