From Boston, where I live, it takes 22 hours to drive to Sequatchie Cove Farm in Tennessee.
I like that it takes time and effort, and a measure of discomfort to arrive at this beautiful, sequestered place. The 300-acre farm is ringed by the Cumberland Plateau and embraced by thousands of acres of forest. Little Sequatchie River, a cold stretch of water, runs through the woods beyond the vegetable fields and small meadows where the cows graze.
As I cross multiple state lines and head south to the farm, I undergo a process of shedding. I leave behind my urban sounds and sights -- neighbors walking their dogs on leashes, brownstones lining asphalt sidewalks, car horns and trolley bells dinging.
After two days in an air-conditioned car, speeding at 75 miles an hour, I enter a world that is covered with grass, acres of blueberry bushes, tomato plants, twigs, pebbles, river rocks, and sleeping dogs -- unleashed -- under the shade of big-leaf magnolias, pine and oak trees. My brother and sister-in-law's house is made of river stone and wood. Giant slabs of granite steps lead to their front porch.
At the farm, my body shifts to a different pattern of movement and perceiving. My eyes relax, taking in long views of sky and mountains, and micro-views of honey bees. I breathe in dust and the smell of hay, cow pies, wood and leaves. Internal mechanisms that I've forgotten open up inside. My sense of time changes. In fact, time doesn't seem to matter much. I do a lot of drifting and strolling.
At night, I lie on top of my bed sheets, floating on a mattress of darkness, the moist air bathing me in layers of heat. No air-conditioning here. The boundary that separates inside from out disappears. I am suspended in a universal dream. Moonlight casts shadows across fences and trees and stirs up energy I didn't know I harbored in my arms and legs. I am buzzing in this state. I can't fall asleep. I'm too busy being.
The sound of cicadas and crickets is deafening, louder than Beethoven's ninth symphony. Actually, it's more than sound. It's vibrations pulsing and ringing throughout the cove until everything -- cows, pigs, dogs, chickens, cats, trees, beds and me -- is throbbing like a single, supernatural heart.
At 4:30 in the morning, the rooster breaks this unified rhythm, calling out in ragged jerky notes. Its shout rips apart the night sky to let in glimmers of sunlight. I try to catch one more hour of sleep but am too excited. By 6 a.m. I'm dressed and walking down the path to my brother-in-law's house, fifty yards away, for a cup of coffee. The cicadas have stopped their noise. In the silence, I hear my sneakers flicking through blades of dew-soaked grass.
The cows are awake too. They see me moving across the field. I feel like a figment of their imagination, an odd figure whose purpose to them is unknown. As I stand in the kitchen waiting for the French press to brew my coffee, the fields take on their daytime shapes. Colors begin to reappear: green and grey. Morning clouds slide away into the mountainside.
During my time at Sequatchie Farm Cove, I am reminded that paradise is not bound to heaven. I can find pieces of it right here on Earth, where I am.