The farm had sat empty for years prior to our family moving in. I remember standing at the property's edge looking doubtfully through chest-high grass at the house with its sagging porch and outbuildings in varying states of disrepair. My parents had moved numerous times and renovated a good number of houses over their two decade marriage and this, they claimed, was a case of "saving the best for last".
After several years of doing a daily 10 mile "commute" to care for our horses, my parents had taken their time looking for just the right hobby farm. This one met their criteria: outbuildings for animals, land enough for pasture and garden, and a house big enough for any and all of us to return and stay for a night, a weekend or as long as we wanted.
At 15, I could sense how important this move and old farm was to my parents. I remember feeling happy that my last few years at home would be spent helping them create the perfect space to raise the remaining four of their seven children and a beautiful place for them to grow old together.
The property's 20 or so acres were bounded on the north and south by brooks that originated from Barney's River in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. The waterways offered trout fishing for my younger brothers Troy and Stephen and provided the inspiration for my mother to post a sign announcing to visitors that they had arrived at "Little Brook Farm".
That summer my father taught me how to use a steamer and putty knife to remove more than a century of faded wallpaper layers and then how to repair the ancient, cracked plaster walls that lay underneath. Downstairs, my mother created a mudroom for barn clothes and boots and helped my sister Cheryl set up her potters wheel and kiln in the "blue" room off the kitchen. The sound of a busy and happy family echoed through the big rooms.
Out in the barn, the stalls required only minimal repair before our horses Puzzle Boy, Lassie and Snowball moved in. We converted an area just beyond the stable into a chicken coop filled with Banti hens and my little brothers collected fresh eggs each morning. Over time, a goat named "Flicka" and "Wilbur" the pig were added to our family and the compost pile that would fertilize our garden got bigger and bigger.
As the summer went on, my father and I built a corral and fenced in a 10 acre grazing pasture for our animals. We used a steel pole to dig holes for the ax-sharpened fence posts and salvaged MT&T wire for the fence. I learned how to use a come-along winch to tighten the wire before fastening it to each pole. Beyond the fences, the property had ample wild flower and alfalfa covered fields that were perfect for horseback riding, space for hiking with our city-dog turned country-hound Stanley and an orchard for apple-picking.
Once the house and stable were fit to be lived in by our family and animals, we began to explore the decrepit barns and sheds. As we pried open the creaky doors, light filled the old buildings to reveal antique trunks with leather handles, vintage cranberry glass bottles, cobbler shoe forms, scythes, hinges and old garden tools. To my father's surprise and joy, one shed housed a classic 1949 Studebaker that had been buried for many years under a massive mound of straw. Once the treasures were removed, that old shed had to be taken down due to it's state of disrepair.
My mother claimed one end of the main barn as her own and posted another hand made sign that said "Ye Olde Potting Shed". Her potting shed was located out near the garden, far enough to be away from the day-to-day demands of the household but close enough to hear us call. It became her personal retreat where she could connect with nature and herself. Her place to create, grow, think and dream.
Those tumbledown sheds housed what would become treasured, family heirlooms and they provided me with vivid memories of life at Little Brook Farm. It is my mother's shed though, that I remember most fondly, with its grayed barn board walls, jars of sea glass, pots, tools, cobwebs and memories....and as life moved on, the memories persisted and I wondered why?
Over the years our family moved often and owned many homes which, by virtue of my parents skills and resourcefulness, required renovations that involved "sweat equity". Most of these homes had a barn, workshop or garage that was very often the domain of my father and was used to fix the car, store paraphernalia and work on renovation projects. My mother's shed at Little Brook Farm was different. It was dedicated to creativity, domesticity, inspiration, play and gardening. Perhaps for that reason, as the years went by I continued to be drawn to small sheds and inspired by the women I've met who build, work, create and play in them - artists, gardeners, writers and even a stone mason.
In 2014, I began to build a small stone patio for container gardening near my kitchen door. The small patio reminded me of a stone floor...which needed four walls....and a wee shed was born. Dubbed "The She Shed", this tiny space (measuring less than a meter deep) has brought order to my garden gear, revived happy childhood memories, inspired a remarkable garden and drawn me toward a more creative and peaceful existence as a gardener, photographer, writer and entrepreneur.
Without a doubt, The She Shed was inspired by my mother, Bona Alexander and the blog, "Shed Happens", is dedicated to her. Mom led a healthy, productive and principled life that fostered an inner strength that enabled her to raise seven children and to overcome unpredictable, difficult events that she encountered during her lifetime. I cherish my memories of Mom in her shed, where she could focus on creating, growing and feeling at peace with herself and the natural order of the world around her.