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Ryan Johnson, Published October 11 2013

Johnson: Home will always be little Minn. farm for this city guy

I didn’t consider myself a country boy until a farmer recently called me a “city guy.”

I’ve lived in town most of my life, except the year I was 6, when my family rented a farm near Jamestown, N.D.

My family moved across eastern North Dakota, spending time in Northwood, Fargo, Cando and Jamestown before we packed up for Grand Forks in 1998.

I stayed there for 14 years but lived in nine places during that time, frequently changing apartments and rental houses after moving out on my own. The experience of constantly uprooting, even if it was just 2 miles down the street, means there isn’t one particular community or house that I can look to as my home.

At least that’s what I thought until the farmer’s “city guy” comment, an offhanded remark that made me realize I had a home in the small farm in northwestern Minnesota that’s been in my life as long as I can remember.

This 80-acre plot of land was the residence of my two bachelor great-uncles when I was born. They both died when I was young, and the farm sat idle for many years when my grandparents inherited it.

My parents were given the land when I was just starting high school, and at the time, I was sure the rundown buildings and chest-high weeds would never appeal to me.

But somewhere along the process of visiting every couple weeks to mow the large yard, trim back the overgrown trees and clear out the decades of accumulated junk, the farm won me over.

There was something refreshing about spending a busy day on the farm with my family, returning to town exhausted from our efforts to reclaim what nature had taken over during those years of vacancy.

Out there, there were no city lights or paved roads. There wasn’t even working electricity when we first took it over.

Barn swallows were frequent but unwanted visitors, swooping down to drive me away from their nests whenever I explored the collapsing shambles of a large barn that once stood tall and proud.

I wondered how I would react if the black bear that lived nearby ever sauntered into the yard, curious about all the commotion. Luckily, I never had to find out.

The farm became my retreat, a place I could sneak away to whenever I could get a weekend out of town.

But it’s not my retreat anymore.

My parents, forced by the realities of life, made the tough decision this fall to sell the land. Maybe the new owner will one day build a house nestled among the old trees, making their own home on that land.

But I don’t consider this sale as the farm’s departure from my life. The things I experienced out there will stay the same, even after the change in ownership.

For the rest of my life, whenever I get frustrated about parallel parking, noisy neighbors or slow-moving traffic, I can escape to the farm in the memories I created there over my first 28 years.

I might be a city dweller, but if home is where the heart is, my home will always be that little farm in Minnesota.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587