As a young girl growing up in the country, I couldn’t wait to leave my parents’ home and move to the city. I had never understood the lure of the countryside. On the farm, my life consisted of going to school, cutting grass, and helping out in the family garden. I was ecstatic when I finally got my driver’s license and had a vehicle to get me into Guelph where I could visit my friends. I ran away from the country every chance I got.
After moving to Guelph, I still managed to visit my parents on the farm. One particular Saturday afternoon, I sat with my father on the back porch. At one point I looked across their property and a felt a tug at my heart. The setting sun and the quiet beauty of the landscape were things I had never noticed before. Growing up, I had never appreciated the beauty but that evening, with my father, I knew at some point I would be living in the country again.
Fast forward to 2008. A sad year, both my father and father-in-law passed away. My father-in-law lived in Melancthon and with his passing, the house he was living in became available to his children. Neither of his daughters were interested. That left the door open for Tom and I. The day we buried my father-in-law, I knew where I wanted to live.
Once we moved in and got settled, I wanted to explore and started travelling the back roads. In addition to writing, I had taken an interest in photography, and I had no idea the beauty I was going to experience with each new road I travelled down. I spent hours driving up and down the roads in and around where we lived.
The term back road trolling came to me out of the blue, like most of my writing ideas do. You have to have a desire, patience and love for beauty because that is what you are going to find on the gravel roads that weave their way through the countryside. The properties and the buildings that may or may not stand, all tell a story and you can only find out about them by trolling the back roads slowly.
There are century-old homes that have been fixed up and either passed from generation to generation or passed from one family to another resulting in a whole host of different stories. There are ultra-modern houses that don’t quite fit the country design but will in time, because eventually, everything conforms to its environment.
There are houses that have seen better days but the houses I love the most are the abandoned ones. Being a writer, my imagination takes flight with these houses. I want to know the story behind them. I have always been curious about the houses that lay empty and what happened to those who used to live in them. I haven’t been able to photograph all these homes, as no trespass signs keep me away but their stories are just as important. If you can open your mind, there is beauty in these homes as much as there is beauty in those that are brand new or those that have had loving hands bring them back to life.
There are some houses I never captured on film and they have since been torn down and cleared away. Their story, gone forever. But it isn’t only houses that have been left to the elements of time, there are many barns with their siding gone, rusted roofs and crumbling stone walls. Their open sides expose hay and straw bales which have broken apart and now decay. One has to wonder how long before a corner gives way and the barn falls into greater ruin?
On some of the abandoned properties, there are discarded, rusted vehicles or parts thereof. The abandoned house I recently visited, shared the land with an old rusted tractor, a broken down lawnmower and an old trailer frame. What I found most interesting at this home was the green neon chainsaw sitting outside on a box, totally out of place for this particular scene. Around the house, the grass grows wild overtaking the machinery, as a wild turkey takes up residence next to the rusted trailer frame.
There are properties with well-manicured lawns, colorful flowers beds and rail fences standing perfectly straight. Other properties reflect being worn down over time as fences lean, paint has been chipped away and once manicured lawns are now out of control and turning into hay fields.
Nature has worked very diligently on overtaking, almost hiding in some cases the houses that used to stand proudly and be visible to all who drove by. In some cases foliage grows in through windows and doors, their way of saying, ‘this was once our land, we are now taking it back’. And I can’t say for sure but I am guessing that one or two animals may have taken possession of the odd house.
When you decide to leave the back roads and head home, there is a shift in atmosphere and if you are like me, you feel it and want to take in more of the peace you just left behind.
I love all my countryside has to offer, there is a peace here that you won’t find in the city. I can see my neighbours but can no longer touch them as was the case living in the city. In the city, there are some houses so close together that it would take nothing to jump from one rooftop to the next.
Life started in the country and hopefully, we won’t destroy it all because it is needed for many reasons. I know history exists everywhere but for me, the abandoned houses and farms that dot the countryside, they speak to me in ways, the city never will. It will be a long time before I give up the country and my days of trolling are far from over because I know there is so much more for me to discover in and around where I live. A five-minute drive will get me away from reality every time.
If you have never checked out the country, go for a drive, you may be surprised by what you find, I know I have been. All you need is an open mind, imagination and the wheels to get you here.
Natalie Merritt-Broderick has been writing since the age of thirteen about her life experiences, the challenges and the world in general. Some days the task of moving forward has been easier than others but her writing has allowed her to re-evaluate her life, find solutions and write from a place of passion. Her writing includes fiction and non-fiction. One written page at a time will allow her to ‘Fly Be Free’.