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Perry Epes '65 and the Rev. Gail Epes

Morgan Hensley '10 describes life beyond the gates for former EHS teachers Perry Epes '65 and the Rev. Gail Epes in the essay "'Time's End' and New Beginnings," originally published in the latest edition of the Piedmont Virginian, a quarterly journal, and republished here with permission.
Although they named the farmhouse “Time’s End,” for owners Perry and Gail Epes, it was a new beginning. The couple bought the quaint, rundown fixer-upper in 1997; the first poem came soon thereafter.

For most, retirement is a time of rest, a hard-earned respite after a long career. For the Epses, both former teachers at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, retirement provided them with an opportunity to continue their pursuit of knowledge and discovery. After years of teaching Thoreau and the “voluntary simplicity” found in Walden, Perry imagined a retirement of serenity and solitude in his native state of Virginia. His interest in the state’s rich history, combined with Gail’s Quaker ancestry, made the small farmhouse in Lincoln a perfect destination for their next chapter in life.

However, major renovation was needed before the Epeses could move into their idyllic country home. The house had functioned as a tannery and tenant house, and although never derelict, it was quite rundown. The Epeses contracted Allen Cochran, a local of Lincoln and an esteemed stone mason and timberframer, to restore the farmhouse. Cochran shared the Epeses’ vision of a restoration, as opposed to a reconstruction, and salvaged as much of the original structure as possible. This approach was symbolic for the Epeses as it preserved the historical integrity of the home by reusing “the foundations [that] have always been here.”

In order to emulate the authenticity of the times, Cochran used hand tools and a period specific recipe for the mortar in the stonework. He remarked “that this is the oldest building I’ve worked on in twenty years of restoration.” With an original structure dating back to 1749, the farmhouse is not only the oldest Cochran has restored, but one of the oldest in the area.

As early as the 1730s, Quakers flocked to Goose Creek from Pennsylvania. The abolitionist Quakers divided the virgin land into small, non-commercial farms that could be seeded and harvested by families. As a result, slave labor and over-farming depleted the once nutrient rich soil of eastern Loudoun while the Quakers’ farmlands remained arable and bountiful.

It was this fertile land attracted Jacob Janney. A native of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Janney was in search of a place where he and his new wife, Hannah Ingledue, could secure enough land to raise a farm and a family. The newlyweds moved to Goose Creek in 1745 after purchasing nearly one thousand acres. After relocating, Hannah began her ritual of wandering into the deep, quiet woods to pray beside a fallen tree, her makeshift altar. She practiced this earthly, modest worship daily until the Goose Creek Friends Meeting was erected in 1765. When she passed away at the age of 93, she was remembered as one of the town’s most devout and principled residents.

It is this figure, this friendly specter, of Hannah Janney that Perry evokes in his poetry. His poetry lends form and structure to her untold story by channeling “her pilgrim wisdom while imagining her gentle relationship to the land, which [Gail and I] would seek to emulate.”

Her daily sojourn into the woods gave her the solitude needed for deep introspection and self-reflection. By imagining her meditations, Perry brings the past and present together to show the universal, unchanging themes of existence: the immutability and eternality of the natural world, the role of memories, the transience of each and every moment. This comparison of the past and present is a recurring theme in Perry’s poetry, one that the late Claudia Emerson, former Poet Laureate of Virginia and Pulitzer Prize recipient, recognized in a review of Perry’s collection of poems, Nothing Happened: “Epes renders a past so sentient, it is almost as though the present intrudes on it.” Indeed, by bringing the past and present together, Epes illuminates those aspects of the human condition that remain unchanged.

These lofty themes and rich history have been captured by other poets, most notably Henry Taylor. Taylor was born in 1942 and was raised on the farm where the Epeses now live. The son of two teachers, Taylor was raised a Quaker and attended the George School in Bucks County, the same place where Jacob Janney grew up centuries before. After graduating from the University of Virginia, he embarked on a long and distinguished career as a poet and professor. Many of his most celebrated poems are set in the rural landscapes of Loudoun County, an area he regards as a “profoundly beautiful place, both physically and historically.”

In 1986 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his third collection of poetry, The Flying Change. An avid horseman, Taylor named the collection after the maneuver in which the horse changes its stride midair. Appropriately, his poetry focuses on the moments in which the quiet routines of life in the country are broken, times in which “a stillness can erupt into frightening noise and disorder.”

In one poem a farmer comes across a corpse while mowing the fields. In another, a spooked horse gashes its neck along a barbed wire fence. His poetry is often paradoxical in this way; one realizes the great stillness of the land only when it is broken, the relentless passing of time only when “the shifting world suspends / its flight and leans toward the sun once more, / as if to interrupt its mindless plunge / through works and days that will not come again.” Other poems are more lighthearted (still far from whimsical and certainly not lacking in philosophical depth), and yet one still detects a nostalgia, a yearning to return to “where you are in your deepest memories, the things that you go back to when you’re dreaming.” Dreamlike is perhaps the best way to describe Henry Taylor’s poems — small worlds that come to life, lift off the page, and, for a fleeting moment, capture life’s hidden and most remarkable truths.

It is no coincidence that two accomplished poets either descend from or find inspiration in Lincoln’s antique houses and open fields. The land, like the rest of the Piedmont, possesses a vibrant history, one of stories told and untold. Both poets successfully harnessed this history and endowed it with form and structure. However, poetry does not exist only on the page. One only need to observe the road signs — Taylor Road, Howard’s Farm Lane, and Crooked Run — to begin to feel this inspiration and divine the poetic essence of the land. In a world that grows louder every day, sometimes the most profound stories can be heard only where there is silence.

The following are two poems by Perry Epes, "Times End, Will Restore," and "A Gentle Plea to Freeholders," preceded by their epigraphs, "The Beginning of Time's End," and "Hannah's Progress I," respectively.

The Beginning of Time’s End
On 3rd Month 20th 1742, Jacob Janney of Falls Meeting in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, married Hannah Ingledue of Philadelphia (not yet 17). Jacob started looking around for land in Loudoun County, Virginia, where some relatives had already gone. The next year he obtained a grant of 690 acres, and a few months later, on 8th Month 5th, 1743, he and Hannah obtained their certificate of removal from the Falls Meeting.

In 1745, Jacob and Hannah, married now three years and with a family, actually moved to Loudoun and settled about a mile east of where the Goose Creek meeting house would rise. Their stone house, the one that succeeded their original log cabin, still stands to remind us of them.

—Asa Moore Janney and Werner Janney, Ye Meeting Hous Small (1980)

Time’s End, Will Restore
Bought this house, woke up
with a baby older than we are.
It grows on us,
new moss on sitting stones.
We stir and stretch
to keep our crusts from closing over.
We’ll scrape and prime as we can,
curing the shed skins,
boiling them down in the
very hearth. We bought this farm
to wake again.

Hannah’s Progress I
The leading spirit behind the establishment of a meeting house at Goose Creek was Hannah Janney, the wife of Jacob. Soon after the establishment of her new home, she began going regularly twice a week to a log in the forest, where she set up an altar to her God by spending time in silent devotion.

Hannah, Jacob Janney’s long-time widow, must indeed have been of strong character. On her death in 1818, at the age of 93, she was recorded as a woman of few words, but it was added “that as a ‘mother in Israel,’ it was her earnest concern to watch over the flock and family, for good.”

—Asa Moore Janney and Werner Janney, Ye Meeting Hous Small (1980)

A Gentle Plea to Freeholders
Hannah Janney sat on a log
To catch the Inward Light
And crack the seed of Quaker creed,
Win love without a fight.
She swept the forest floor with prayer,
Sighed her hopes to the trees
That her man might thank the land he shrank,
Gathering tiller’s fees.
She’d charge him not to fell more logs
Or chop the one she sat on:
“Let thee revere all creatures mere,
E’en though thee keep thy hat on.
“Prithee spare more trunks their fall—
‘Tis stones, not stumps, thee needs must clear
To free thy field and raise thy wall
And truly leave a temple here.”
So Hannah thought, and would have wrought
Her husband’s heart with words
But let them sink, lest he should think
Her housing dreams were for the birds.
Yet Jacob saw, and broke old ground
To pile this stony cot
Where we shall pen our thankful scrip
To amortize this shrunken peaceful plot.
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