The farm is now surrounded by a nest of throughways, and the drone and shriek of cross-country trucks carry to my cabin a constant reminder that, had I not put my 420 acres in a conservation trust decades ago, these fields and woods would now be shopping centers, cookie-cutter subdivisions, and off-ramps for throughways threading the Midwest.
We have wild turkeys, flocks of them, and so many deer we’re arranged with local bow hunters to take out a limited number. We have giant carp cruising lazily in the two ponds we built—there is plenty of water here—which beaver periodically inhabit and ducks of every kind float. A fierce blue heron, true proprietor of the place, reigns on one leg in the rushes at the edge of the water, flapping off with injured dignity when I drive past.
We have the miller’s log cabin and the grist mill he ran—Butterbean Miller, known seventy years ago for grinding corn and raising butterbeans. The mill will grind again in October, and neighbors and friends will watch and take home small bags of cornmeal emblazoned with the previous owner’s logo of the mill: Eva Lee Smith Cooper, whose vision made it all happen.
We women are creators, and when we have the means, we are creators of historic proportions. Eva Lee used her inheritance from her murdered husband, and her will and wit; decades ago, she bought the miller’s cabin, the mill and a few acres, then added a substantial house to be the home of her three sons and the center of the families they would eventually create. Only economic hard times forced her descendants to sell the beloved place to me in the 1986. By then Eva Lee had patched together a bunch of neighboring farms, assembling the 420 acres that are Wolf Pen Mill Farm today.
There is one place on the farm where the highway drone never penetrates: the triple waterfall at the far end of the rough road that once was the only route to Cincinnati.
The old road leads through the Cooper’s family graveyard, where I always stop to kneel at Eva Lee’s grave and to read again the inscriptions on the newest grave of one of her descendants, a young soccer player murdered at her university.
Beyond the graveyard, the path is overgrown, passing beneath a tall limestone cliff on its way to the edge of the waterfall. I’ve never seen another human being here, although the Cooper family certainly comes; the edge of the waterfall, muddy and treacherous at times, seems to repel visitors. The stream after a rainy summer roars over the rocks and ledges that plunge down the edge of the cliff. Once long ago I threw jewelry and keys into the water, to make firm my decision to move on.
I thought then my connection to the farm was severed, but in fact my twice-yearly visits bring me closer to the spirit of the place than during the distracted years when I actually lived in Eva Lee’s house over the mill.
On October eighteenth, we plan to open the mill to the public, grind corn—my immensely talented mill designer and restorer, Ben Hassett, will be in charge—and give Eva Lee’s little bags to neighbors and friends and supporters of Riverfields, which holds the conservation easements, a chance for them to see the mill in action and to take home enough stoneground corn meal for at least one or two pones.