Judy Branch is the perfect place to raise your kids, no matter what species you happen to be. It seems, this summer, that around every bend of a path, gravel road or turn of the day, I am reminded of the ever-extending family tree belonging to this place. On the twice daily pilgramages out and then back into the hollow I have encountered a newly dropped foal taking a precarious wobbled step, young yellow chickadees taking first flight, a young goat couple fretting over their new kid. Sitting on the porch at home here at the head of the hollow, I dim down my day with the mingled sounds of children of all sorts making the sounds of playful discovery, free of fear and full of curiosity. There is danger here, but hardly ever any fear. With an edge of reverence and thrill, neighbors tell of the forty-three inch rattler a young mother killed in her yard down Line Fork. None of us would ever seek out snakes, living by the code that you only kill when they become an obvious threat. And the next day, we are still walking barefoot to the garden, keeping a watchful eye lest another one gets too close.
I love living a place where nature is simply part of life and not something to be fought back with pesticides and shrubbery. I love that my own little girl - a bright eyed hillbilly pup - can run unleashed and unfenced up and down the mountainsides, playing in the creek and lounging in tall grass. I love that when my neighbor's cows decide to come over the creek to chew on my grass, that all I have to do is walk up and talk to them and they go right on back home. And I love how my neighbors tell their friends and relatives how much they love hearing the music come drifting over from my porch, no matter what time of day or night, and those stories get back to me at the grocery store or at work. We all share this place and work together to keep the delicate balance that makes this the kind of place where we all feel free.
I don't really know if I'll ever want to have kids of my own, but I know that I'll always want and need a family. And Judy Branch is a place where I belong to a family that resembles the cross section of an old tree trunk, with rings and rings and rings of circles. Right now, at the center, is me and the critters. Hopefully, someday soon, there'll be more that just us at the heart.
A friend of mine recently told me, when he was first courting the woman he's now married to, there was a moment when he had an ephiphany: this was a gal he could move to Alaska with. And that's when he knew she was the one he wanted to be with forever.
That's the feeling I'm waiting for. Who knows if I'll move to Alaska (although a part of me would really like to try it out for awhile...). The precise place, other than being in the mountains, is not so important. It's meeting someone who, without any hesitation or doubt, you'd want to be with in the middle of the wilderness and who could relish that experience with you, helping to maintain the delicate balance of life and being with you at the center of the circle of famiy you naturally become a part of when you live at the edge of the wild.