Living in the heart of a city near Jacksonville, Florida, we were constantly inundated with the usual noise and smell of the city--the incessant hum of traffic, the sirens of police cars, fire trucks, and emergency vehicles, the noxious smell of exhaust fumes permeating the air was an ever constant reminder of the poisons we were inhaling into our lungs, not to mention the awful smell coming from a paper factory in the city. But these were normal things that we tried to get used to because we were living in the city. We were earning our living in the city. We were stuck in the city.
We tried to make the best of the situation. We tried tuning out the noise of the heavy traffic in Blanding Blvd, but somehow found it rather difficult. Our house was the second house away from this busy street, and the Fire Department was located only yards away from our place. Only a wooden privacy fence separated our backyard from the parking lot of Road House Inn, a bar, where loud music blared out late into the night. Occasionally, in the middle of the night, we would be awakened by fighting going on in the parking lot.
One night we heard a loud angry voice spewing out expletives, then we heard a female voice piercing the night with screams for help. Silence followed. Then siren and commotion. Seconds later, we heard sounds of footsteps--someone running for dear life. Frightened, we made sure our doors were bolted shut, then we peeked out the bedroom window trying to figure out what was going on on the other side of the fence. Is someone running away from an assailant or running away from police officers? I wondered, People get in trouble with the Law when they get too much to drink.
After several years hearing and experiencing in a vicarious sort of way the vices of city life behind the backyard fence and beyond, we decided we didn't want any of it, and we started thinking about moving to the country where peace and tranquility prevail.
We found the perfect house in a sparsely populated town of Lawtey, Florida. The road leading to the house was a dirt road. In rainy weather, the road turned to slick mud. In heavy, heavy rain, Lawtey turned to Mudville and our dirt road experienced various stages of usability--from passable, to almost impassable, then to totally impassable with a big ROAD CLOSED sign put up by the town. They said that in Vermont, the muddier it gets, the sweeter and tastier the maple syrup gets. I wondered what I could say about Lawtey--the muddier it gets, the more country-feeling you get?
In their season, untrimmed azaleas bloomed in wild profusion at our property. Relaxing on the swing in the front porch, we enjoyed the delightful scent of the magnolias and the gardenias blooming by our driveway. Pecan trees and Chinese elms provided shade during the summer. Pines, maples, and cottonwoods graced the back of our property.
Our neighbor's property was amassed with colorful blossoms from early spring to late summer and even in winter. There were all shades and hues of azaleas, crepe myrtles, red buds, and dogwoods. Yellow and orange day lilies grew in delicate contrast against a backdrop of other flowering shrubbery. Camellias welcomed the southern winters with their white, pink and red blooms.
We enjoyed our walks on the dirt road with our two dogs--King Tut and Almond, both were mixed Chows which stumbled into our property at different times and made it their home. We gave King Tut his name because he had a bearing of royalty and carried himself like one. He walked beside us, proud as could be, like he had just returned home after years of fighting a fierce battle in a faraway country and winning the victor's crown. We gave Almond her name mainly because she had the color of reddish almond.
In these country walks, we encountered the wild in its almost-pristine beauty--deer, owls (though not often, we saw these night creatures in the day time), ravens, hawks, blue jays, cardinals, sparrows, mockingbirds, and plenty of stray cats, perchance, dumped there by city dwellers. Free from the light pollution found in larger cities, this town afforded me the joy of being able for the first time in my life to see lightning bugs as we scanned the dark, velvety night sky for Orion. Then, as we settled in for the night, the crickets and frogs welcomed and serenaded us, new dwellers of the country, with a cacophony of nature's wildest music.
On the back of our property and a little to the right was a horse pasture and a pond. There were a couple of horses grazing in the pasture. The view of the pond with the horses grazing nearby, green trees in the distance, and a canopy of clear blue sky was magnificent--a prize-winning picture postcard scene. At sunset the sky glowed with the colors of topaz and red coral making the scene especially breathtaking. When we got close to the fence, the horses, friendly as could be, came up to us and we petted them. Their coats were shiny and sleek. Sometimes we gave them apples and carrots. They loved these treats, and we enjoyed feeding them. Sometimes we just gave them grass clippings, and they were just as happy chewing these as they were chewing apples and carrots.
Early one morning, I looked out the window facing the opposite side, away from the pasture, and was startled to see a big face of a horse looking in at me through the window. On rare occasions the horses would get out of the pasture and amble over to our property. I didn't mind a peeping horse at all, but its unexpected presence there at the window startled and frightened me. I loved horses. We were living in the country and enjoying every minute of it. Living in God's beautiful country was a respite from the hustle and bustle and the noise and poisonous exhaust fumes of the city. We were delighted with our simple abode nestled peacefully among the pines and maples in Lawtey, Florida, USA.
We were reminded of a quotation in Happiness Homemade, page 367, which says: "Instead of dwelling where only the works of men can be seen, where the sights and sounds frequently suggest thoughts of evil, where turmoil and confusion bring weariness and disquietude, go where you can look upon the works of God. Find rest of spirit in the beauty and quietude and peace of nature. Let the eye rest on the green fields, the groves, and the hills. Look up to the blue sky, unobscured by the city's dust and smoke, and breathe the invigorating air of heaven."
And Ministry of Healing, page 370, says: "God loves the beautiful. He has clothed the earth and the heavens with beauty, and with a Father's joy He watches the delight of His children in the things that He has made. He desires us to surround our homes with the beauty of natural things.
"Nearly all dwellers in the country, however poor, could have about their homes a bit of grassy lawn, a few shade trees, flowering shrubbery, or fragrant blossoms. And far more than any artificial adorning will they minister to the happiness of the household. They will bring into the home life a softening, refining influence, strengthening the love of nature, and drawing the members of the household nearer to one another and nearer to God."
So there we were in the country, in Lawtey, away from the hustle and bustle of Jacksonville, and breathing in the invigorating air of heaven while drawing our family members closer to one another and to God. We loved it. However, shortly after moving to Lawtey, loggers started taking down the pines to make a clearing in the woods for houses to be built. We wondered how long this peaceful country setting would last and how long it would take to turn a small peaceful town into a bustling metropolis in the south.
Because we were all commuting to Jacksonville to work which took approximately two hours each day on the road for the three of us using three vehicles, the wear and tear on the vehicles, not to mention the wear and tear on us, the price of gasoline, etc., we decided to move closer to Jacksonville. My son Michael was attending Flagler Career Institute at the time. We decided to find a place that looked and felt like country.
Soon, we found just the right place--a country paradise in the city. The backyard of our three-bedroom brick house overlooked a ten-acre horse pasture with four horses, yes, four horses. The horses looked like they were grazing right in our backyard. We loved it. It was delightful watching these horses. Sometimes, they would run from one end of the pasture to the other at lightning speed. The thunderous sound of hoofs transported me back in time, in history, where the Turks, in battles, used horses known for their strength, courage, and fierceness. Discharging muskets on horseback, these Turks fought gallantly, shaping the history and destiny of the world.
As for the horse out in the pasture, they were not fighting horses. They were peaceful and quiet and grazing contentedly. In the coldest of North Florida winters they would be out there wearing their horse jackets. We lived here about ten years now and enjoyed the peaceful country-like surroundings. In light traffic, it took me just 20 minutes to get to work. In heavy traffic it took close to half an hour.
One day, I noticed that I have not seen the horses in the pastures for a while. Where have all the horses gone? I wondered. I mentioned it to my husband John who said he was wondering the same thing. Then we saw stakes with orange flags situated around the perimeter of the pasture. We feared the worst--that another housing project would replace the pasture, and the horses would be gone forever.
Our fears were confirmed when land surveyors, engineers, and county officials came to our house to check the drainage in the back. They told us that an elementary school would be built in back of us. Not again! I cried, The horses--they took away the horses! The parking lot for the school busses and vehicles of the teaching staff and office workers would be situated right behind us.
Projecting my thoughts into the future, I heard the rumble of school busses as they rolled in and out of the parking lot. I smelled the noxious fumes emanating from the busy traffic beyond our backyard. I heard the sound of children playing happily in the playground, and although this was not bad of itself, I was deeply saddened because the 'touch of country', the peace and tranquility that we have so long enjoyed in this part of the city, would be gone forever. I wondered about the fate of the other horse pastures nearby. Only time would tell, and time was running out. For us, I knew that we would do the inevitable. As much as we would rather not move at this point in our lives, more than likely we would move again.
Where have all the horses gone? When we find the answer to this question, you can be sure our next house--a little log cabin by the side of the road--will be close by.
Here's a picture of our backyard. For fun, I added some props of horses to always remind us of the reason we bought our house in the first place.
There are people who would rather live in splendor
And brag about their silver and their gold,
And people who would trade God's promise
For its glory to hold;
There are people who would rather live in mansions,
There are people who would rather live abroad,
But I'd rather have a little log cabin
By the side of the road.
I'd rather live by the side of the road
And try to point souls to the blest abode
Than to be a king or a millionaire
And live in mansions in bright array.
I'd rather do a neighborly deed
For a traveler here or a friend in need,
I'd rather live by the side of the road.
And help some pilgrim along life's way.
Ev'ry day I want to be a friendly neighbor
And try to help somebody on the way;
I want my life to tell for Jesus
Ev'ry hour of the day;
Take away my ev'ry thought of fame and fortune,
Take away my ev'ry thought of rich abode
And leave me just a little log cabin
By the side of the road.
I would rather have a cabin by the roadside
Where the pilgrimage of man is passing by
Help to point some soul to Jesus
And that city on high;
Ev'ry day I want to help to scatter roses,
Ev'ry night I want my lamp to shine abroad
With a welcome from my little bay window
By the side of the road.
--Abert E. Brumley