The Patterdale Hall Diaries | How it all began
- Published: March 27, 2023
By Chris Wyatt
Ten months ago, we bought a piece of property in southwest Ohio. It’s tiny — a capsule property really — but it carries weight. We have lived in Ohio for 16 years now, having moved here from Cellardyke in The Kingdom of Fife, Scotland. Not that any of us are actually Scottish, other than the precocious older child who was born in Ninewells Hospital, Dundee. We are a unit. A scientist, an artist and two boys who are teetering on the brink of being whatever they want to be.
This writing won’t be as much about us as it will be about the small plot of land we now own. Although as I write, many aspects of us will obviously rise to the fore. We read a lot, Karen, and I. We have had no television for 16 years now, we read everything. The first book I started reading when I sat down in the little house on the plot was a diary by the British filmmaker Derek Jarman. It was a day-to-day account of his life in the cottage he owned in the ass-end-of-nowhere on the south coast of England. It detailed daily things and his thoughts in an eloquent, exact and an entirely non-boring way. That “non-boring way” is a little daunting to try and emulate, but I hope to be able to convey the magic that is there on the plot of land that we now own.
The plot of land we now own thrums with “magic.” It’s very odd. I’m a scientist. I have been very well trained. I have worked at elite universities. I am left-brain focused and precise in the way I approach the world. Magic is something I use in Dungeons & Dragons, not something that exists in the real world. Yet, the 1.8 acres of land I bought in April 2022 are not simply dirt. The space is more than a place. It’s a place with history, where people lived, loved, partied, farmed, hid, rejoiced, loved more and finally died.
When we bought this place, we bought more than 1.8 acres of woodland and vegetable beds — we discovered a place that had been loved. Really, really loved. You cannot ignore that. It resonates. It thrums.
In early 2022, Jim Prether died. He was in his late 80s and lived out on a small property that he farmed. This is the property we now own. His daughter Shawnee and siblings put the property on the market but were terrified that someone would buy it who would not love the spot like they did. This is 1.8 acres of forest and wild, surrounded by corn and beans. It could easily be more corn and beans. They did not want it to be corn and beans. Nor did I. I had been looking for a two-acre plot of woods for a decade, and when Jim’s property hit the market I was fascinated. It was exactly what I had been looking for, and there was a little house there. It was a broken little house, but it was a house, and we could make it work.
It was a really broken little house.
And I couldn’t afford it.
However, I knew Shawnee. We live in a small town, and while we do not know each other well, we have chatted, and I have a lot of admiration for what she has done with her life. I offered the family what I could afford. Which was a lot less than what they were asking. Shawnee met us out at the place, and Karen and I wandered the woods. It was sunny and the pines were whispering in the wind. I could see Karen’s face.
They accepted our offer, and we took on ownership of the place where Shawnee’s father had lived for 50 years, where she was raised — 1.8 acres of forest and beautifully tended vegetable beds that needed more than just a little attention.
We were landowners and my heart was full.
It was April in Ohio. I think it was the 23rd when we signed the deeds, which is St. George’s day and therefore very important — but maybe it wasn’t, who really cares? We owned an amazing plot of land.
Over the next six months we replaced the roof on the house, rebuilt the chimney, replumbed the house, evicted the coyotes from under the house, grew amazing vegetables, harvested Jim’s amazing volunteer vegetables and began to cut wood. Because the only heat in the house is a wood-burning stove, and when it gets cold in Ohio, it gets cold. I need to cut more wood — forever.
That’s how it began. My hope is to update frequently about what we are doing, and how things are going. I want to dive much more deeply into the day-to-day things. Not just that I cut wood but what species, how it was cut, where I am drying it, how it burns. When Karen kills honeysuckle, I’ll detail where and how much, because in these first six months the woman was a machine. Honeysuckle is incredibly invasive, but no match for a woman with some fancy Fiskars loppers and a husband with a brand-new Stihl chainsaw. As we grow vegetables I will detail what works and what doesn’t and how we might change everything. I’ll probably detail how my family moves and evolves and loves as well. How could I not?
*Originally from Manchester, England, Chris Wyatt is an associate professor of neuroscience, cell biology and physiology at Wright State University. He has lived in Yellow Springs for 16 years, is married and has two teenage children and two insane Patterdale terriers.
4 Responses to “The Patterdale Hall Diaries | How it all began”
What a great read, can’t wait for more
Thanks Chris, lovely, fascinating piece.
So pleased for Karen, you, your boys and your happy place.
Love and best wishes.
I am the grandson of Jim. I am more than ecstatic that you guys are treating that house the way it should be. Thank you guys so much. My grandpa would be happy.
My goodness, this is wonderful! The story, the writing, the love-of-land, the promise of daily particulars told in attentive and loving detail… Thank you for this fresh and lively addition to the News.