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For Love of Nature: Visiting family farm brings back childhood memories
For Love of Nature

For Love of Nature: Visiting family farm brings back childhood memories

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As we took in the view from the hilltop home of my childhood last week, I marveled at how little has changed.

The rolling countryside remains dotted with silos and cattle and trees, and thanks to our mother, the 100 acres we grew up on will remain much the same.

Shortly before her untimely death 17 years ago, Mom put the farm in a conservation easement with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. Only one house can be added to the land in the future, guaranteeing little will change.

An adjoining neighbor put even more land under easement, protecting much of the viewshed.

My brother Kelly and his wife Carola have become caretakers of this special place, cultivating a garden, canning food and maintaining the house my parents built.

There is so much work to do. Kelly fights bittersweet that threatens to drag down the fences needed for the cattle grazing the pastures. He mows the fields, careful to leave space for grasshopper sparrows and meadowlarks.

When Michael and I visit, Kelly takes more breaks to enjoy the birds. As soon as we arrived, we pulled out our binoculars to see the palm warblers, with their constantly bobbing tails, yellow-rumped warblers and one lone Nashville warbler flitting among the trees.

Ravens played in the distance with their distinctive, raspy croaks. Small flocks of blue jays headed south.

We walked across the fields, scattering grasshoppers and crickets, to Cemetery Hill, the place my father chose for his ashes and where we later added Mom’s.

We gave thanks for another spectacular view and memories of growing up part and parcel of these fields and forests full of insects, flowers and all manner of living things.

One of the favorite sounds of my youth was that of a meadowlark waking me up in the morning, a sound I still hear on this farm, where I get to watch their yellow chests in the sun as they throw back their heads to sing.

As the day heated up, we sought shade under an old maple and cheered as both a male and female northern harrier hunted low over the fields. These hawks, which we rarely see, are always on the lookout for rodents.

Up above, red-tailed hawks circled, along with a kestrel that scared off a flock of smaller birds.

Inside the house, Kelly displayed a nearly 8-foot long skin that a black snake had shed out on the deck.

We had come to dig up some of Mom’s peonies and scored an added bonus of seeds collected from generations of petunias planted nearly 60 years ago.

As always, we ate well from Kelly’s garden labor and cooking skills: October beans, tomato pudding, green beans, okra and pear pie.

The setting sun brought an orange-pink sky before night settled in with Venus and Jupiter blazing, though increased lights from nearby towns have diminished the darkness.

The next morning, as the sun rose and the fog lifted, four meadowlarks landed in front of me, a benediction on the land.

Shannon Brennan can be reached at


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