A Morning Walk
In My Upland
(Part 2)

Dateline: 15 August 2016

In Part 1 of this little series, I told you where in the world my Upland is, and I let Wendell Berry tell us about the richness and resonance that comes with living in one place for most of your life. 

Now it's time to walk. In the picture above I am standing in the road in front of my house. I am in a literal upland place. It's not a mountain upland. It's a side-of-the-valley upland. The ridgeline in the distance is the other side of the valley.

So, I will be walking down. The shadow indicates that the sun is low in the sky behind me, and I am heading directly west.

The woods to the left of me, all the way down to a sharp bend in the road, are part of the 16-acres of land my wife and I bought a few years ago. The land to the right is planted to soybeans. For as long as I've lived here, that land has been owned by a man from New Jersey. I've never met him. I've never even seen him. The field is rented by a local farmer.

As I get near the bend in the road, this is what I see to my right...

Most people around here know that house as the Defendorf place, though no Defendorfs have lived there for a long time. I've been told the Defendorf farm was a beautiful farm in it's day. The barns are now gone. The fields and woods all around the house were sold to the man from New Jersey. Now the house sets on 1.5 acres. Several renters have lived in the house over the years, but it is now abandoned and in considerable disrepair.

A few years ago, a For Sale sign went up in the front yard and I called the number immediately. I made a verbal agreement to buy the place that day and followed up with a legal purchase agreement and down payment. But the deal fell through. There are legal/financial issues preventing the owner from selling. Last I knew, the owner still intends to sell the place to me when the problems are cleared up. There's no telling when that will be, or if it will actually ever happen.

If I walk past the Defendorf place just a bit, this is what I see...

From here, the road inclines steeply down to the valley bottom. It's a seasonal road because it's too steep to plow in the winter. Which means, it is an excellent sliding hill. I can remember sliding down that hill in a long toboggan, heaped with highschool friends, back in the late 1970's. That was a lot of fun. And when my three sons were younger, they slid down that hill with their friends too. The ride down is awesome. The walk up is tough.

When I look down that hill, I sometimes think of Willis White. Willis lived at the bottom and was an old man when Marlene (my wife) and I bought our 1.5 acres of land and built our house so long ago. He could no longer drive a car, but he had a little Farmall tractor that he would drive up the hill. He took a liking to us, and we to him.

I do not walk down that hill on my morning walk. Instead, I follow the main road as it takes a sharp bend to the left, right in front of the Defendorf place. 

There are three houses at the bend in the road. One is a doublewide that belongs to me and Marlene. Our son and his wife live there. The house came with the 16 acres of land we bought. We bought the land, and the house came with it. It's kind of nice to have a second house.

Phil Murphy and his wife Penny lived in the house we bought. Penny passed away first, then, a few years later, Phil passed on. The land and home were left to his children. We purchased from the estate. Phil's son lives in the house directly across the road. He told us his father would have been pleased to see us get the place.

I liked Phil a lot. He was a Marine veteran. He saw action in the Pacific during WW2. Except for those years in the Marines, he lived his whole life in this upland. And his family before him. Fact is, the road I live on is named after his family... Murphy Hill Road.

Phil would often pull his car over and talk when he saw me out in my garden. In later years, his son would drive him, and he would pull over so his dad could talk with me.

When my walk gets me past Phil's old place, and his son's place across the road, this is what the road ahead of me looks like...

The field to the left is Phil's old field (my new field). The land to the right belongs to Phil's son. The yellow caution sign in the distance is where our land stops. Then the land belongs to the farm at the top of the rise.

That farm up there was the Murphy farm. It's where Phil grew up. At some point in the history of the place, the farm was sold. It was bought back in the early 1970s by the parents of my high school buddy, Art Dillon. It was a productive farm back in those days. There was a small dairy and the fields were stocked with Hereford cattle.

I remember there were some big old sugar maple trees along the left side of the road before the farm. Art tapped the trees and made maple syrup when he was in high school. I was amazed by that at the time. He was the first person I ever know who boiled down his own maple. Now, Marlene and I boil down a few gallons of maple syrup every year. And our kids grew up making maple in the backyard.

Here's a view of the road, and the land, at the top of the rise (the farm house is to my right, barns to the left)...

All the land on both sides of the road in this picture go with the old Murphy farm. I think it goes for nearly 3/4 mile. 

Art Dillon died of colon cancer several years back. I think of him every day when I walk this road. There are a lot of highschool-years memories along this road.

A few years after Art died, his older brother Donny committed suicide. That was a shocker. Then, a few years later, Anne, their mother, died. The farm was left to an adopted foster child named John. He hasn't done much with the place. The fields are rented out. 

After the bend in the road shown above, there is an old gate by a lane...

Back in the day, there was a small pond just beyond that gate, with a little wood-frame cabin beside it. Both are now gone, without a trace. That cabin was a central gathering point when I was in high school. A bunch of us guys would camp out there on weekends. There was a little wood stove in there and we would get that thing cherry red in the winter. Lots of memories there.

I remember sleeping in that little cabin with Art and some other friends, then getting up in the morning and going to the farmhouse where Anne cooked breakfast for us. I remember the little tow-headed foster child, John, walking around with just a diaper on. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined back then that the little boy in diapers would one day own the farm. 

The road ramps up a bit after the old cabin site, there is wood land on the left, and then, after aways, more woods on the right. Here's a view down the road as I get to the right woods...

There is a field up there on the left. Way in back of the field are woods. One night, back in the highschool days, Marlene and I were on a date and drove by that field. We could see a campfire lighting up the woods. I knew Art and some friends were camping back there. So I parked my dad's car down the road and we snuck through the field near to the campsite.

They had a big fire going and were having quite a lively conversation. We decided that instead of crashing their party, we would retreat a little and then Marlene would let out the loudest scream she could. And that's what she did. And then we listened...

"What was that?" 
"Did you hear that?" 
"It sounded like a wildcat." 
"No. It couldn't be a cat." 
"There are wildcats around here, you know!" 
"Get the gun."

Marlene and I snuck away down the road and left, laughing all the way. That was fun.

Here's the view down the road past the wildcat field...

There is another field on the left with soybeans. This is still part of the old Murphy farm. My walking destination is a dying ash tree by the side of the road up on the right...

Now standing by the ash tree (the one mile mark of my walk), I look down the road. It bends sharply to the left. If you look closely (click the picture to see an enlarged view) you can see the leafless branch of a dead  elm tree. That is what I look for at the end of the first half of my walk.

That lone elm tree grew next to the Buckley barn, which happens to be on Buckley Hill Road. There's no Buckleys that I know of still in these parts. And, interestingly, their name wasn't spelled as Buckley (like the road signs now spell it). It was actually Buchley. Art showed me that on an old map.

The Buckley barn marks the end of the old Murphy farm. It was a grand old barn. Art had a special fondness for the barn because it was so well made, with large hewn timbers. It was truly a masterpiece.

I can remember (high school days again) sleeping in the hay mow of the Buckley barn a couple of times. And then there was Homecoming night 1975...

Me and Art and our friend Bill were at the little cabin by the pond with some other guys. We had plans to go visit several girls (Marlene among them) who were camping the night at Peg Francis' place. They were staying in the sugar shack back in the woods of her parent's farm. But we didn't want the other guys with us to come. So Art came up with a plan.

Without saying anything, me and him and Bill would run to Art's car, get in, and before anyone realized what was happening, we would be far down the road, on our way to where the girls were. Art had a Pontiac LeMans that he had outfitted with a big engine. The car was fast.

So that's what we did. Art took off and we left everyone in the dust. But Norm Morgan had a fast Mustang. Him and Dave Wiltsie got in Norm's car and he took off after us. It was just getting dark. We could see his headlights way behind us.

Art got to the Buckley barn, skidded to a stop, backed up to the front doors, and shut off his lights. He had enough distance on Norm, and the bend in the road (the same bend you see in the picture above) gave us enough cover to follow through with the plan and not be seen. 

The idea was that Norm would race right on by and never even see us. Or, if he did see us, by the time he realized and got turned around, we would be way ahead of him going off in the other direction.

But it didn't play out that way. 

Instead, Me, Art and Bill watched as Norm came around the bend and lost control of his car. He ended up slamming into the ditch across from the Buckley barn, before bouncing out and rolling down the road a couple of times. This happened right in front of us. In my mind's eye I can see one headlight on the Mustang rolling with the car. And bits of glass and metal spiraling away from the busted-up front end.

Norm's face slammed into his steering wheel and busted out a couple of teeth. Lots of blood. Dave broke the windshield with his head. A concussion for sure. The Mustang was totaled.

Police came. The ambulance came. Volunteer firemen showed up. Mr. D., our high school driver education teacher was a volunteer fireman. He wanted to know what had happened. Art felt pretty bad, especially since Mr. D. had awarded him the Driver's Ed Student of The Year Award a couple weeks previously.

Fortunately, Mr. D. never knew about Art drag racing Steve Cuddeback one night down the State Road out of Moravia. I was in the back seat. Bill was in the front. Art had the LeMans up to 100. I wasn't comfortable with that. 

Steve passed us on the Sayles Corners bend when Art slowed down. If a car was coming the other way around the bend, Steve would have hit it head on. That was insane. 

But I digress.

Many years later, Art's brother bought a hay bale unloader for the Buckley Barn. Instead of stacking the bales of hay in the barn, like had been done for so many years, the unloader carried bales up the side of the barn, then into the top, where they would go along a track inside the barn, and drop into a pile. The bales would then be in a jumbled up mess.

The Buckley barn was loaded full of these jumbled bales and the next thing you know, the sides blew out and the whole barn collapsed. It happened overnight. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it. The barn was totally ruined. 

A few years later, we heard the fire department was going to burn what remained of the barn. I went with my kids to watch. They threw a couple of lit road flares into the middle, and that was the final chapter on the Buckley barn. All that remains is foundation rubble and the ramped driveway up to where the front doors once were— the same driveway where we were parked when we watched Norm wreck his car.

I really didn't expect to write this much but, the memories were flowing. There are lots more. I think of these things when I take my morning walk. 

In the final installment of this morning-walk series, I'll show you some pictures of my 1 mile walk back home, and I'll try not to "talk" so much. :-)


  1. I love hearing of the old memories. Growing up, one of my favorite pastimes was listening to my dad tell stories of his childhood and teen years, which, coincidentally, occurred less than a quarter mile from where we lived, at my grandparent's house and farm where my dad grew up. I've now grown up and moved out of my parent's house to my own home, next door to my mother and father on part of my grandparent's original farm, my grandparent's house still visible down the road. Now I'm the one telling stories of my own childhood, as well as my father's and grandfather's, to my young children, and they love it, especially since we're able to take walks afterward to see where all those "exciting" things happened. There is something special about lining in a place so closely tied to your family history. We are blessed.

  2. Hi Stewart,
    What a great multigenerational family, place and legacy testimony!
    Yes, you are blessed, and it's so nice to know about it. Thank you for the comment.

  3. This was a fabulous read. I love to hear and tell stories about the past. Thanks for sharing! I could read a million more posts like these without blinking an eye. Thank you for brightening my day!!!!

  4. Wonderful stories. You can "talk" all you want. Then I can have fun "listening."

  5. Wonderful stories! I laughed out loud when reading about the bale unloader. I agree totally with the last two commentors!

  6. Not everyone has the luxury of staying close to the land of their nativity. I believe I'm living in the ninth place since my Old Order Amish mother gave birth to her firstborn stretched out on my Grandma's Kitchen table. Not staying in one place does not limit the stories however. Your readers can read my stories at placesivebeen.wordpress.com

    1. Jonas—
      Thanks for the comment and the link to your blog. I spent some time reading there this morning, and will stop back again, for sure.

  7. Wow - great entry. Thanks~