Sunday, January 13, 2013


Every land has its own special rhythm, and unless the traveler takes the time to learn the rhythm, he or she will remain an outsider always.
-Juliette de Bairacli Levy

"Harlan, I've been telling the girls about the shantyboat.  They would like to hear something from you."

"Anna said it was dangerous?"  Kellie interjected.

"Of course anything can happen on the river, but we didn't build a boat because we were looking for high adventure.  As long as I can remember I've been drawn to the river.  I canoed on it as a boy with my brothers.  Imagine what it was like for Anna though!  So much was new to her, and she did it for me.  It was Anna who first saw the possibilities of building a boat.  I had already come to think of drifting down river as a dream gone by.  Now I believe that trip would never have happened without Anna."

"Oh Harlan, you know it became our dream.  I don't regret a minute of it!  Girls, it's probably hard to imagine, but we had the time of our lives.  We were determined to learn all that we could beforehand to gain experience and build confidence.  We spent our first year on the boat tied to the shore living in a river village near river people; that was our classroom.  We didn't let the current take us until we felt ready.  For me, the final step was a little like holding my nose and jumping in," Anna laughed.  "After all, we had to leave all our good neighbors behind.  And then our family and friends never knew exactly where we were until we contacted them from our next port."

Harlan added, "There was a lot of preparation, and then plenty of hard work while on our journey. Anyone who may have the romantic notion that drifting is a carefree life, or for the lazy, can read the book and see how it really was.  Plus, you are always at the mercy of the river and weather. Often we felt vulnerable, but at at the same time, well, you're so at one with the natural forces that sometimes you can feel like you 'are' the river; now that is an experience beyond total description.  Yes, we had the time of our lives," Harlan said looking at Anna with appreciation.  

"Harlan," Anna replied softly.  "We have so many wonderful memories.  Vivid in my mind is being together in the boat with you sitting by the fire with Skipper on your lap.  I was trying to do something or other by candlelight and had to stop because the moon on the water was so lovely. We have a moon like that in Payne Hollow tonight."

"This place did seem to draw us back to it,"  Harlan responded.  "We found it in our drifting days, and after spending a summer here raising and putting up our food, we never expected to see it again.  But years later, when we returned to this part of the Ohio River valley, this part of the country was changing fast, and we didn't seem to fit in any town.  People can be suspicious of anyone a little different, and we were a bit odd I guess-true rustics and educated besides. With all that, we greatly admired most farm families, so we visited our old friends here and found we were remembered and welcome.  Now our roots have gone deep into this soil."

The girls were in such rapt attention that Anna and Harlan stopped, looked at each other and smiled.  Where people so interested in them because many were losing connection with the natural world?  They had the beauty of music, art, reading together and writing in their lives daily. They enjoyed hard work and the direct effort they made to their everyday living.  They had built their own house, made their own garden, and played their own music.  This was a rare deep satisfaction that their visitors could see.

Kellie ventured another question.  " mean you felt you were a little different from most people?  I hope that, oh, I'm sorry."

"It's okay," Harlan said smiling into the intense expression on her face.  "You wouldn't believe some of the questions we have been asked by visitors.  I guess we could say that we have always been aware that we are happy taking a direction not even considered by most people. We're not trying to prove anything, except to ourselves sometimes.  We just want to live our lives in a more direct and purposeful way.  For instance, I would rather cut my own wood for fires than work at a job to pay the electric company to heat my house.  But I don't say everyone can or should live like this.  Circumstances are different for everyone.  Yet some things are the same. If respect for the earth and all on it are within a man, he should be able to find some success and happiness.  Perhaps contentment is our greatest accomplishment.  I've come to think that it doesn't always matter so much 'what' you do, but it's the spirit in which you do it...There is one important fact that led to making Payne Hollow home," said Harlan.  It's been the perfect, peaceful setting to pursue my life as an artist."

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