Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Bell's Dell

I don't know how much I've blogged about this place before, but it occurs to me that tonight would be a great time.

In 1964, my father decided that since he was an 'itinerant' pastor and would never probably own a home (United Methodist's like to provide parsonages for their pastors), he needed a permanent location for our family. He and mom had been discussing a camper, but as they were driving around Iowa, they discovered this amazingly beautiful land! Lo and behold, it was for sale. Dad picked up 17 acres for $75 / acre. Hillside, meadows, trees, ravines, a flat spot that was perfect for a living area and it bordered a protected river (meaning that no industry could be within a certain space of the river). Wow!

The park directly across the road was called Bell's Mill park. There was a grist mill there in the 1800s and a man named Bell had owned all of that land. Mom and Dad promptly named our land ... Bell's Dell. It fit and it has stuck!

This place became our home! We moved every 4-5 years when I was growing up, and through that time we built a cabin on it, put running water in (an outdoor privy is COLD in the winter) and we even have air conditioning! We spent a lot of time up there (up there because we mostly lived in southeast Iowa and this was in north central Iowa) as children. Dad would take two Sundays in a row off and we would have a ball.

Carol, Jim and I have spent a lot of time together there this week. We had thought we would clear Dad's excess stuff out of his house so that Priscilla wouldn't have to deal with it, but that became less important as her family came in and her friends spent a lot of time with her. We'll deal with it later. But, we DID begin spending a lot of time together sitting around and planning our future with Bell's Dell.

This afternoon, a couple from up the hill and around the bend stopped in to tell us how much they were going to miss Dad. Of course they asked what our intentions for the place were. When they found that we were going to keep it in the family, they were so excited! And they offered to help us whenever they could. Their son went fishing a lot with Dad. In fact, I suspect that Matt kept a pretty good eye on Dad. That old man was a danger to himself!

One of the reasons we are handling this death so well is that we knew dad would die fishing. Now, one of the reasons that we aren't handling it so well, is that we never expected this! Dad fished IN the river. He would walk that river up and down and all over the place. Our bank was too high to easily access the river. He had a rope that he pulled himself up and down on. He would set trot lines in the river and he had minnow traps set. Fishing was really important to him! Carol found out several times that he had fallen in the river and had actually floated downstream aways before he got a purchase and then walked back up the river and pulled himself out and up to the cabin. Yikes! Stupid old man. But, it was definitely his love. We figured that would be how he died.

I learned to fish with Dad. When he was younger, he got himself all suited up in waders and a fishing vest. I had my own pair - well, they were a cut off pair of his. I set trot lines with him. We would check them every 4 hours. He woke me up, I pulled on my very wet blue jeans, walked down to the river with him and held the buckets while he pulled the fish off and re-baited the hooks. We all have fishing stories with dad. Dad taught us to love and respect the river. We weren't very old when we were learning to swim. I may not be the master swimmer that Dad was, but I am not afraid of the water and I'm pretty certain there isn't much in that river that would kill me.

We sat around last night and tonight reminiscing and talking about the future. We have a lot of plans for the place. When we were younger, we brought numerous youth groups up for retreats, we had family retreats. All of our friends loved Bell's Dell as much as we did. Men couldn't wait to get up there with dad and wire the cabin, or put in plumbing. In fact, it was a group from one of his churches that built the main part of the cabin. They loved Dad and they loved Bell's Dell. He loved to share it with them.

There's not much there that is fancy. In fact, I don't think there is anything there that is fancy. Some of the walls aren't finished (dad didn't want to pay higher taxes), the bathroom is a pathetic excuse, but it does work and I'm thankful, the place smells like mildew, or in the winter like a fireplace. But, it is ours.

Mom wrote an amazing poem about the place - it tells the tales that we know: Ballad of Bell's Dell. However, I want to close with this one that she wrote:


Long years I thought of it and now
I have bought my garden;
I saw it, desired it, asked for it,
And gave the man some money for it.
It is my garden now, isn't it?

My mind answers yes, my soul, no!
I cannot own what is universal;
I cannot lay claim to ageless change;
I cannot buy the memories of other footsteps
Treading the same winding paths.

My garden is a meadow, a hill,
A river, trees, gooseberries, thistles,
The spring-popped morel, the dainty columbine,
The delicate warm breeze of summer
Laughing gently at my folly.

It is bugs, myriad swarms of clinging,
Flying, buzzing insects, sticking to my
Sweaty skin as I labor to trim,
Control, govern the lush new growth
Of a wanton spring.

But I cannot own these things.
Does one entrap the wind, command
It to gently soothe a hot, dusty face?
Does one really own free-flying birds
And deer who call my garden home?

I may live here, too, at peace with
The wild things whose roots stretch far
Deeper into this black dirt than mine. I am
Merely a guest, content to
Borrow the beauty of my garden.

The trees will grow here long after
I die. They will watch others till
My garden. The over-arching boughs of
The leaning walnut on the hillside gives
Its benediction to my garden.

Margie Greenwood
Bell's Dell
May 28, 1969


Jacqniel said...

What a beautiful poem. I now know where your writing abilities stem from. Bells Dell sounds magical - if not in it's structure - in it's memories and surroundings. How blessed you are to have a place like that. Love you, Jacque

Anonymous said...

Gosh this poem is amazing!!! Did she write much more?
I love you Diane!!!