My wife and I are a pair of city slickers who have returned to our roots. We have one foot in an urban life and the other in a rural one — although as we get older, we tend to stay more at our farmhouse in our hometown, Dangjin. People say that we are a typical example of trend reversal because the older one gets, the more one tries to lead a comfortable urban life.
We had left our hometown almost half a century ago before we came back about 10 years ago after I retired as a high school principal. My wife urged me to go back with her to our hometown, to which I accepted reluctantly.
Our old farmhouse had long been deserted, so much so that people were scared of approaching it. After several months of indecision, we finally demolished it, built a small new house there, and planted various flowers and plants around it — something we have continued to do every year since, to the extent that our farmhouse is now nicknamed Flower House, the ground pinks named as our family flowers and the Chinese nettle trees our family trees. To be fair to the fauna, and to our feathered friends, in particular, that we see around our farm, the woodpeckers have been designated as our family birds. I, for one, have acquired a special hobby — taking pictures of my wife amongst those flowers, trees and crops. Of course, it is not easy to weed and water the garden and the fields, but the rewards we receive from it are beyond description.
Visitors appreciate our efforts. Passers-by stop their cars and take pictures of our garden and its surroundings. Our neighbors are following in our footsteps, planting flowers and trees around their own houses. And sooner or later our village will become a lot neater and more vibrant.
Our lives have also changed. Our conversations mostly revolve around flowers, trees and crops. But it’s also true that, as we get older, we routinely talk about diseases and death. We also talk a lot about devotion and delight to balance things out. Truly, we are awed and overwhelmed by the wonders that nature bountifully provides. My wife is a walking poet, and I am trying to be a faithful scribe who does not miss what she enigmatically blurts out. I occasionally send some of them, mostly essays, to literary societies to which I belong. While doing this, I sometimes think of an Irish poet who yearned for a rural life, but I am not a person who just wishes to return to his hometown. I myself am farming and gardening, ardently so, I might add.
I hope more elderly people join us, if circumstances allow. Country life is good for healing and preventing senility as well as slowing the process of getting old, shall I say, humbly. Yes, it is never too late to return to your roots, to the flowers, trees and crops.
By Kim Haeng-jung
Former principal of Geumsan High School in Geumsan County in South Chungcheong Province