If the past year highlighted anything for me, it’s that I cannot stray far from my roots for too long. I need to be outdoors in fresh air and sunlight, surrounded by silence and growing things. I need aromas of animals, grass and fall apples. I need wide open spaces so I can see the sky. I need cows and chickens and horses and sheep, so I can be humbled by their rootedness in simplicity.
I need to be on a farm. It’s in my DNA.
My ancestors were peasant farmers going back to the early 1700s. As nearly as I’ve been able to trace, my direct ancestor, Paul (Pavel), came to this country in the mid-1800s, from a poor village called Hlinne in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic). Like so many others, Paul was in search of economic opportunities for himself, his wife Marie, and their ten children who all sailed with him from the motherland.
They came through New York, then crossed the country in two covered wagons to settle in southern Minnesota, a land rich in fishing, green rolling hills and enviable soil. He purchased a land deed for 70 acres there in 1857, and for three subsequent generations, that land provided for my family, until it was sold in 1969.
Some of the happiest times of my life were spent on that farm and I recall quite clearly the somber mood as we left it for the last time after its sale. There have been few days since then that I haven’t thought about my family’s ancestral home with great yearning in my heart.
But, let’s return to the present.
2020 was nothing short of abysmal for so many, including me (see my blog post about the Covid lockdowns and mental health). But there were two bright spots. The first was being able to photograph clients in October, after months of enduring the stay at home order here in Washington. (We were shut down again in November, which was infuriating and definitely NOT a bright spot). The second also happened in October, when I came upon A Bountiful Farm, a family-owned 30 acre farm right here on Bainbridge Island.
From their website:
"Ross and Sharon (Boundy) left Seattle and moved to Bountiful Farm in 1981. The only structure on the property was the main brick farmhouse. They saw the property as a place to enjoy with their four children and put in a lot of hard work. Over the years, they've built a barn, chicken coop, sheep shed, cottage, and more. Bountiful Farm is home to a herd of sheep, cows, one dog, four cats, over 80 hens, several beehives, four horses, and a flock of Canadian Geese, who fly here every summer.
Now, we grow organic produce, free-range eggs, and are an event venue. Everything from weddings to bar mitzvahs to the Painted Frog Auction has taken place here. Bountiful Farm is a place buzzing with energy right in the heart of Bainbridge Island, WA. Come visit us!”
“Buzzing with energy” is a factual description, albeit a modest one. The place fairly explodes with good vibes, from its cheerful mascot dog, to the flower gardens offering up massive dahlias so voluptuous they droop on their stalks. Each vignette on the Farm is a poem about goodness and bounty from the land, curated with love.
I discovered A Bountiful Farm purely by happenstance while out scouting spots for a senior portrait session. As I was driving along Fletcher Bay Road, I’d spotted a pearl colored horse in a pasture alongside a fenced driveway, just off the road. I can’t resist any animal as beautiful as this one was, and I wanted to see it up close. I turned into a long, tree lined private driveway and followed it past the horse, to a cluster of picturesque houses. I readied my apologies for interrupting so serene a place without permission.
A yellow lab instantly appeared and greeted me without the slightest hint of apprehension that I might be there to steal the silver. He seemed expectant of an edible gift from me and was so clearly habituated to this routine, I realized he must have visitors on a regular basis. He settled for an enthusiastic belly rub in lieu of a treat, unabashed in his exposure of his private parts to me, a stranger. But such is the joy of dogs in general and labs in particular. I finally looked up from the lab and surveyed my surroundings, none of which had been visible from the road.
What I saw took my breath away.
It was as if someone had syphoned from my brain its memories of my grandparents’ place and reimagined them here. I was overwhelmed with emotion, struggling to reconcile my feelings of being transported back in time.
The bright air was heavy with smells from my childhood: hay, dirt, manure, animals, flowers, vegetables. And for a long moment, I stood there in the driveway breathing them in, as pictures of lost loved ones associated with each scent flickered in my mind. Something soft rubbed against my ankle and I looked down to see a grey tabby who acted as my tour guide from that moment forward, as the lab had gone off to investigate the tall grasses by a duck filled pond.
As I absorbed this magical place, it occurred to me that I didn’t yet have permission to be on the property, but there wasn’t anyone visible to ask about getting it. I opted to knock on the closest door which was opened by a charming gentleman with kind eyes and a kinder smile: Mr. Boundy, the founder of the Farm, as it turned out. He gave me permission to wander about at will and to bring my senior portrait client there, as well. I thanked him and proceeded to treat myself to something I hadn’t done in many years: meander around a farm. I grabbed my camera bag and jumped into the adventure with a grateful, enthusiastic heart.
And what a meander it was! I followed a walking trail around the outskirts of the property and exchanged greetings with the cows and the neighbors’ sheep, then headed past another horse pasture and into the gardens. A classic, yet stylish, blue barn dominated the area beside the flower and vegetable garden, looking painterly against the cloud dotted sky.
I spied a rather grand chicken coop beside the barn and then a large fenced area where some curious horses were watching me with their extravagantly big eyes. As I approached to pet them, they snuffled and sniffed my hands, sending warm puffs of breath into the chilly morning air. They looked like they should have been in The Lord of the Rings films, breathtaking as they were. I spent a fair amount of time with them, loathe to leave, but eager to continue my adventure. To be honest, I was so enchanted by what I was experiencing, I’d forgotten about the beguiling white horse that had initially been my reason for coming to this place.
My new tabby friend darted in and out from fences, but never let me get too far away without running back to check on me. She followed me as I investigated the chicken coop, and watched nearby in calm stillness as the hens came to meet me in a colorful, clucking wave, expecting to be fed, just the way my grandmother’s hens had.
A great sense of being home engulfed me. It was something I hadn’t felt since I’d been in my grandparents’ car as we drove away from my beloved family farm for the last time, after they’d sold it and moved “into town.” But such is the restorative power of A Bountiful Farm that it built a gentle bridge for me between the Past and the Now.
There’s so much peace at the Farm, you’ll never want to leave. I know I didn’t. And I keep looking for excuses to go back so I can once again cross that bridge and briefly return to a world that no longer exists.
If you haven’t experienced A Bountiful Farm yet, do yourself a favor and go visit. It’s the perfect day trip from Seattle and the owners are the loveliest people you’ll ever meet. The Boundys truly wish to share their bounty with all who seek to partake of it. Trust me, you’ll be a better person for having given yourself an opportunity to step far outside of your everyday life.
And who knows? You might even find a tabby cat who guides you across your own bridge through time, towards home.