Though they are miles from the bustle of any city, Christmastime doesn’t always mean a silent night at Martha and Dwight Singer’s home.
Acorns play percussion on the tin roof of their expanded dogtrot cabin, falling from the oaks with a loud thwack that never ceases to startle. Rain raps its own kind of melody. Packs of coyotes gather below the bluff and, as Dwight tells it, “howl like they’re having a jubilee.”
But the sounds that the Singers love the most are the delighted squeals of their two grandsons, frequent visitors who love to explore around the stream that gives this rural West Feliciana property its name, “Briar Creek.”
Longtime residents of Baton Rouge, the Singers felt drawn to the beauty of the Tunica Hills area for years. They bought what was then a one-room cabin in 1986 as a weekend getaway, but the deal was almost doomed by a discovery just before closing that a property line ran right through the middle of the structure. Luckily, a last-minute renegotiation saved the sale.
In 2004, the couple made this their full-time home. To make it better suited for a permanent residence, they gradually added bedrooms, a den, an office and a butler’s pantry. But the ambiance is still cozy country.
“This screen porch is a comfortable little spot,” Dwight says as he steps outside to point out the “cowboy tree,” a red metal Christmas tree adorned with ornaments the couple has collected on their trips. “When we travel, we travel out west,” he says. “We like to visit Fort Worth—especially for the Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering every October—and we love Wyoming.” They also regularly attend cowboy poetry gatherings in places like Nevada and California, with Dwight having authored several poems himself.
Dwight’s passion for a country lifestyle began when he was a boy growing up in Baton Rouge and would visit this area with a friend’s family. “We would ride horses, and I just loved it,” he says. Martha grew up in the rural north Louisiana community of Newellton. “I thought once I married, I would be a city girl,” she says with a laugh. “But here I am, a country girl again.”
Living so far away from town has meant many adjustments, but the Singers celebrate each one. “There’s never a day out here that something doesn’t need fixing or doing,” Dwight says. “You just always have to be ready for anything.”
Improvements to the house and land have happened slowly and deliberately over the years, with Dwight and Martha tackling much of the work themselves. There’s the big gray barn where two quarter horses named Stormy and Cowboy have stalls with their names emblazoned in wood, where prize ribbons from past days of showing horses hang in the tack room, and where Martha has an art studio. “I paint in spurts,” she says. “It’s just about finding the time.”
Under an oak tree in the pasture is a 1920s farm wagon that Dwight converted into snug guest lodging resembling a traditional sheepherder’s wagon. A wheelwright in Frost got the old wheels turning again, and Dwight kept a detailed journal of the wagon reconstruction project.
The couple’s most recent addition is a garden shed that they completed in the summer of 2015; it features plenty of room for potting indoors, plus a square-foot garden brimming with beans, tomatoes and peppers just off the front steps. A gravity-fed cistern collects rainwater for the garden and for the shed’s sink.
A picket fence around the shed is equal parts charming and practical, warding off wildlife that strays from the adjacent Little Bayou Sara in search of a healthy snack. “We’ve seen one bear around here,” Dwight says. “And there are lots of deer, chipmunks, turkeys, foxes and coyotes.”
While wild creatures are not welcome in the garden, animals are the subject of many of the artworks that fill the Singers’ home. Ruby Stovall painted a mural of the family dogs under the bar, and Gunsmoke actor Buck Taylor, whom the couple met at a horse show, created the shadowy watercolor painting of horse and rider that hangs above a nativity scene in the dining area. Martha’s own paintings also hang here, alongside works by contemporary Western artists that the Singers admire.
Back outside, Dwight and Martha spend as much time as they can enjoying this rural realm that they now call home—day and night. “Up here, with no streetlights, the stars are spectacular,” Dwight says. “You just see every one of them, and it’s gorgeous.”
For a closer look at the rest of this home, click on the photos in the gallery below: