Saturday, December 4, 2021

The Ghosts of Dudley Farm

How do we measure progress? It depends upon who we are.

The capitalist measures progress in cement and steel, the return on investment, the expansion of the fractured skyline of the metropolis.

The bureaucrat measures progress in budget allocations, increasing efficiency and effectiveness, widespread acceptance of and conformity to organizational rules.

The farmer and the green witch measure progress in the health of crops and livestock, the cycles of growth and harvest and decay that mark the shifting cycle of the changing light.

I measure progress in the growth of spirit, development of clear vision, reclaiming the primordial knowledge that there is more to the world than meets the literal eye.


People are hungry for the psychic, not the fake-psychic telephone lines but the real psychic dimensions of spirit--which we have relegated to the realm of the psychological and psychosocial shadow.

I saw this hunger at a friend’s fourteenth birthday.

Ten girls--a group that ran the gamut from the very shy to the boy crazy to the troubled teen to the extraordinarily well adjusted--practically stormed the kitchen table where I sat in semi-darkness, flanked by a crystal ball and an assortment of lit candles, shuffling a deck of Tarot cards.

We played a Tarot game, and I taught the girls a smidgen of the ancient symbolism--pentacles for craft and wealth, swords for conflict and intellect, rods for country life and new beginnings, cups for love and intuition--and then I did a reading for each girl.

I sat for nearly four hours, from nine in the evening until after one in the morning.

“How’s the line in there?” the girls would call from the next room, wondering if their turns were getting near.

The most popular question was, “Will I have a boyfriend this year?”

One girl asked how she could improve her relationship with her father. Another asked how she could become a better person.

The readings were wildly divergent. Some were troubling, some were reassuring, others revealed the normal teenage turmoil of fourteen-going-on-fifteen-and-waiting-for-my-license-to-drive-and-permission-to-date.


Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to Dudley Farm. 

I come to the Tarot after years of interest and loving the images, but with very little real, practical reading time. The experience of reading for nearly four hours straight for a group of fourteen-year-olds was both exhilarating and exhausting.

When I’m weary, I always seek solitude in the countryside. So, the week after the Tarot party, I found myself at Dudley Farm twice in the same week. The farm is a home for my soul.


I could tell the story of the farm--how P.B.H. Dudley moved to the land near Newberry in western Alachua County before the Civil War, how his descendants farmed that land until the mid-1990s, how Miss Myrtle Dudley honored her mother’s wish to keep the farm intact by donating the homestead to the Florida Park Service so the land could be preserved as a working farm, how the Park Service dragged its heels with plans for the property until Miss Myrtle died and the bureaucrats suddenly realized that the farm was a potential cash cow.

But there is a level at which the farm must tell its own story to each visitor, must speak in the language of soil and sunlight, full moon and shadow, falling leaves and rain, legend and ghost story.


It is not hard to imagine ghosts at Dudley Farm--indeed, it is hard not to imagine them, here on the land where generations of Dudleys lived and loved and died--especially when time stands still on late October afternoons and the setting sun pours gold-orange shafts of light through the tree-lined lane in front of the old farmhouse.

In the early 1900s, it was down this lane that cattle were driven to market. It was down this lane that families arrived from nearby areas to shop or post letters at the farm, the community center for the area that we know today as Jonesville. 

And it was down this lane, one clear moonlit autumn night, that four ghosts came riding. 


Here is how the last Dudley to live on the farm, Miss Myrtle, described the haunting. 

She was a little girl at the time, and the front porch of the farmhouse was filled with people--probably relaxing and telling stories after supper and a hard day’s work--when the sounds of voices and horses’ hooves were heard coming down the lane. 

Four riders approached the front gate. Myrtle’s Uncle George stood up and went to the gate to meet the visitors, as was the country custom. 

But as little Myrtle and the whole porch full of people watched, all the riders simply dissolved into the clear night air. Disappeared. Vanished. In plain sight of everyone there. 

“It wasn’t just one or two people who saw it,” Miss Myrtle said. “The whole front porch was full. There wasn’t much sleeping going on here that night, after that experience.”

Then, almost as an afterthought, Miss Myrtle described another apparition who was often seen in the lane--a woman in a blue dress, walking, who vanished when anyone tried to approach her.

“They never did understand it,” said Miss Myrtle. 


But maybe it’s not so hard to understand, when you know that “Dudley” comes from an Old English word that means “place of the dead.” And when you know that it was to Dudley Farm that neighbors brought their dead to be prepared for burial. 

And especially when you know the farm on a cool October twilight, when scudding clouds blow past the waxing autumn moon. Then you can revel in the chill, feel the veil that separates the worlds of the living and the dead begin to part, and--out of the corner of your eye--maybe even see the ghosts of the past dancing in the air or moving across the land that the Dudleys farmed for more than a century.


I took a friend with me to the farm that week, a woman who is gifted with clear vision and so can see between the worlds. I told her about the riders at the gate and the woman in the lane, and how I worry that air pollution and modern life may wreak havoc on the old wooden buildings. 

I reminded her that I had asked her advice about preserving the farm once before, and that she had told me the only thing that could stop the destruction was an old person sitting on a front porch in a rocking chair.

“Look,” my friend said, pointing to the four rockers on the front porch of the farmhouse. “Look. All the chairs are moving.”

I looked. She was right. Each chair was rocking, ever so slightly, back and forth, back and forth.

There was no breeze. The chairs were empty. 


We are, all of us, hungry for the psychic. We have banished this dimension of our spirits to the nether worlds of illusion, television and motion pictures, repressed dreams of the soul that longs for contact with something larger than itself--something not split apart.

So now we rock on our porches and tell ghost stories in the twilight, whisper our visions in the dark, and begin, ever so slowly, to speak the truths that we have known, all along, but have been pressured by the idea of “progress” into forgetting.


And up the tree-shaded lane, four riders are approaching.

And up the tree-shaded lane, a woman in a blue dress is walking in the afternoon light.

(c) 1998 aww
Part of this appeared a number of years ago in an article in The Gainesville Sun.