My childhood was not exactly a happy one, for reasons I’m not going to go into. But I have one bright spot in the memory of that time, something that I had buried away until a few years ago, because I didn’t think I could get that feeling back. When I was (about) 11 or so years old and my brother was 9, my family spent a summer living in a trailer on a national park in the mountains of Northern Utah. My brother and I lived liked wild children. We spent all day running around the woods, constantly dirty. There were these steep slides of smooth rock in the middle of woods that we would slide down the hilly spots to these secret little grottoes no one else knew about, even though our parents told us not to. We were completely primal, and it was pure in a way that human communities never have been. There was a pond with swans and ducks, and I knew the secrets spots in the woods were baby rabbits had recently been born. It was a wonderful four months. I’ve never entirely forgotten it. When I was going to college in Arizona, during a writing class of all things, those memories came back to me. We read a story called The White Heron that was about a wild little girl that lived in the woods with her grandmother, and suddenly I was filled with a nostalgia for that wild purity that my brother and I had experienced more than a decade before. Thus was during the time that Alex and I were watching Jaime at Home and talking about the real possibility of trying to get a homestead. Those memories of running in woods were some of the happiest in my entire life, and I wanted a way to make that a part of my life on a daily basis if at all possible.
I also wanted security. I wanted something that was mine. Something that could not be taken away. I had been through unemployment and homelessness, and I knew how precarious the so-called American Dream was. I had seen how quickly the house of cards we build can fall apart. There is nothing more secure than land that produces food, and animals that make meat, milk, and hides and wool. If you can’t afford to feed all your animals, then you slaughter some of them, and you have just gained food as well as eliminated mouths to feed! I wanted a simpler life. I wanted out of the city, away from crime, away from gangs, away from dead-end retail jobs, away even from the school where no matter how many classes I took I couldn’t find I career I could see myself doing.
Of course, I am a Pagan, and this surely plays into my decision to homestead. The reverence for the Earth, for Mother Gaia, for the nymphs, and for the Agricultural Gods, is a deep part of my religion and my soul. If reincarnation is a thing, I’m quite sure that I’ve lived several lifetimes in ancient Greece, Rome, and elsewhere in the Mediterranean. My soul is undoubtedly Greek.
The irony is that I never really understood or liked Demeter, the Goddess of Grain and Agriculture, until I lived out here and really began to dedicate myself to growing my own food and cultivating my own land. I am estranged from my own mother, and I have always identified much more with Demeter’s wayward daughter Persephone. It was easy to see Demeter as more suffocating than loving. But in the past six months, my respect for Demeter has grown in leaps and bounds now. You may think you understand all the work that going into growing food. But until you are breaking sod with a pickax, covered in sweat, your muscles screaming, you really don’t get it. You just can’t. It can’t be understood in the mind, it must be felt in the body. It’s primal, just like running around the woods was.
The other irony of this story is that around the same time that I was deciding to buy a farm with my brother, while we lived in Arizona, I lost my faith. I think that some of the reason for this is because I was struggling with the age-old question of evil. Living in the city opened my eyes to the truly horrific violence that human beings can inflict on each other. We lived on the bad side of town, and unfortunately I saw some things I don’t care to remember or repeat, and even worse, the cops didn’t care to respond to phone calls from our area unless someone was dead. But now I also think that part of it is that I was living with my emotionally abusive father, and every day was like walking on eggshells waiting for him to explode. It’s hard to focus on the Divine in such an environment. So much of my energy went to trying to figure out why my father was angry, or how I could prevent the next outburst, or brooding at the unfairness of it all. I also fell into a state of miasma, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I don’t want to go into it here, but my father is guilty of the kind of deep, dark crimes that cause a serious miasma, not the everyday kind. This is a spiritual pollution that is contagious and must be cleansed. I could not commune with the Gods as long as I lived with him. I didn’t know about him until years later, but when I did, it made finally everything click into place.
My brother got sick about a month ago, and while he was recovering I read him The Dirty Life by Kristen Kimball. I had already read it myself last year before we moved, but I thought he would enjoy it. When we were little, I’d make up stories for him so he’d go to sleep, or read to him if we had books. (I basically raised my little brother, so in some ways he is more like my son than my sibling). So sometimes when he is not feeling good it makes him feel better for me to read to him, and its a nice thing we can share.
Kristen Kimball was a woman who lived in New York City as a free-lance writer, and never thought she’d end up being a farmer. But then she decided to write an article about the passionate young people who are going back to the earth and growing the organic food that is so in demand, she met a farmer named Mark. And everything changed. She had just intended to interview him for her article. But as different as they were, they fell in love.
Their first fumbling attempts at dating were amusing. She comments at one point that there were more cultural differences between her and Mark than between Mark and a random selection of taxi drivers from the developing world, because one of the only things he enjoyed in New York City was taking taxis and talking to the drivers about their different agricultural methods. These anecdotes are entertaining, but the most interesting part of the book is when they decide to look for land together, and she finally makes the commitment to change her life and become a farmer, which is quite a learning curve for such a city girl.
The Dirty Life chronicles their first year on their five-hundred acre Essex Farm, which culminates in their wedding in fall (after the harvest is in). Mark had an unusual dream – he wanted to found a CSA, but a whole-diet CSA: not just vegetables, herbs, and fruit, but also beef, chicken, eggs, milk, grains, flours, dried beans, even maple syrup. Basically everything a family would need to eat throughout the year. As far as I know, the Kimballs are still the only ones doing this type of CSA. I never heard of one of these before I read the book, or after.
The one thing about the book that is sometimes frustrating, at least to me, is that at times the author’s class shows through in her preconceptions. She said near the beginning that she had thought that farmers were “salt of the earth types, not dumb exactly, but slow”, and at lot of stuff like that.
Her description of the state of the farm when they first got it, with all the outbuildings falling apart, was supposed to be gray and dismal. But it sounded like heaven to me and Alex. She told Mark it felt like it had no soul, and Mark told her it was only sleeping and they would bring it alive again. She couldn’t see it’s potential, but Mark could, and Alex and I were of course imagining all we could do with that much land, with outbuildings already built. For Alex and me, when we struggled to get 5 acres with an unfinished cabin that is still lacking insulation (that is next priority after our truck is fixed!) it was a little sad and even upsetting to read. At least our insulation-less cabin is not in upstate New York!! Winters in the Ozarks can still be cold, but are shorter, much less intense, and much less snowy.
But anyway, if that gets to you like it did to me, please bear with it for a while, because her relationship with Mark does open up her world and change her a lot. This transformation is actually quite interesting, and I’m glad she had the honesty to write it out. It was a great book, really beautiful and inspiring. I can only dream of having that much land. There are still some pockets of my 5 acres I have not yet explored, it is much bigger than I have imagined. 500 acres is almost unimaginable, it would be like having your own little country.
So really it’s become obvious to me after doing this series now that I’ve been on a trajectory towards homesteading for a long time. There’s still a few other homesteading inspiration things I want to post about, but I guess I can’t call that “Why I decided to Homestead”, since the next post will be on inspiration that I found after the decision had officially been made, and we began looking for land. It probably won’t be until the beginning of next month. The rest of the God of Month Club posts will be a bit late this month, too. My truck is broke down right now (more on that saga next time). Happy homesteading, folks!