Aging in place: Honouring one’s sense of place

Judy and Harold Macy, both in their 70s, chose to remain on their farmland rather than move to the city. Photo supplied

“Stepping out on the back porch this October morning, the coming day greets me from many senses – the lingering musty smell of fallen alder leaves returning to humus, the southeast wind speaking through the treetops touching my face … “ from The Four Storey Forest by Harold Macy, c. 2011.

As I drive up Harold and Judy’s driveway, through the forest to the opening where I see lawns and an old cabin, and continuing up to the farmhouse where they live, I sense the union of forest and farm, green life and human life.

Harold and Judy are in their mid and early 70s, respectively. They have lived on this land for over 35 years, managing as foresters, a wood lot a few miles away, and as farmers, this acreage. They have raised their children on this land and now have grandchildren. Harold has written about the forest woodlot and their farm in one of his three published books. This land is their home.

Eight years ago, Harold received a jarring medical diagnosis that predicted increasing disability and, according to the specialist, likely death within 10 years. Harold and Judy sprang into action, buying a small house in town, close to a facility where Harold could walk to physiotherapy, and Judy could attend exercise classes.

So began, for Judy, two dreadful sleepless weeks. She could not imagine their life in town, undertaking a renovation of the small new house, leaving their beloved farm and property and their wonderful neighbours.

And so, responding to this inner discomfort, they sold the house in Comox before making the move, and are still, eight years later, continuing to live on their farm.

Yes, Harold has symptoms of the disabling condition, and yes, they have help with lawn-mowing and house cleaning. But, they continue to hold the wood lot, which is worked now by one of their sons. And clearly, they continue to grow vegetables and successfully manage their property. And, Harold reports, “my physiotherapist says it is better for my continuing health to walk from the farmhouse to the greenhouse (about 200 feet), than walking on a city sidewalk.” Apparently, the brain and body connection are more stimulated by the changing ground, changing body dynamics. This reminds me of hearing that walking in a forest is so much more beneficial for our health than walking on a city street. We seem to be hardwired for this complex natural stimulation.

Sitting on their back porch, chatting with them, I entered this realm of peace, of history – seeing the cabin they used to live in, visible down the slope, the huge greenhouse and garden still producing summer produce. I left with a bag of lovely fresh green beans, picked that morning – and felt the rightness of their decision to stay, rooted like the beloved trees

in their rural property.

Jennifer Pass is the Co-ordinator of Comox Valley Elders Take Action (ETA)

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