The Best Way to Figure Things Out

What I did on my summer vacation

The evening before Thanksgiving I pulled home a load of round bales. It was 6:30 and nary a trace of daylight remained in the sky, though the moon – full or close enough to it – shone bright enough that the trees cast dim halfshadows. I could see them splayed across the graveled shoulders of the road, just beyond the swath illuminated by the truck’s headlights. Like outstretched fingers.

The bales were heavy, and the Ford downshifted on the winding climb toward home. I was glad for the hay – good first cut off a good field at a good price – and glad too for the truck’s heater on a cold night. Not as cold as it will be soon, but still. Cold enough to keep you on your toes. Cold enough to maybe keep you from taking too much for granted. Or at least not quite so much as usual.You think cold can’t do this? Then you’ve never been cold enough.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve received a handful of emails from readers, most seeking assurance that my long absence from this space is not indicative of calamity nor mere garden-variety crisis. Thankfully, neither is the case. Rather, we continue to be immersed in our building project, and I have been tending to a handful of magazine assignments. And I still haven’t really figured out exactly what, if anything, I want to do with this space, though it occurs to me that perhaps the infrequent vignettes I’ve posted over the preceding months are what I want to do with it. Truthfully, I’m not thinking too hard about it. Seems to me like sometimes the best way to figure things out is to stop trying to figure them out.

Main kitchen/living room, looking toward small greenhouse space

For those who’ve asked, I’ve included a few pics of our work-in-progress. I feel pretty good about how it’s turning out. I feel even better to be both on-schedule and within spitting distance of our original budget of $30-ish grand, although funds are finally running low and we fwill soon have to take a proper break. Fortunately, this should just about coincide with the place being habitable. Not finished, but definitely habitable.

In the meantime, however, we are content to call a single, insulated room in the barn “home.” Indeed, it is interesting to note how easy this transition has been for us. No one talks of wanting more space or more conveniences. We are warm and well-fed and still enjoying the work that fills our days. We have enough power in the barn for two lights, a radio, and, crucial to our elder sons’ artistic expression, a guitar amplifier. There is a wood cook stove and a stack of reasonably dry firewood just outside the front door. On the hillside behind the barn, three milk-fat pigs. On the small parcel of disused pasture to the northeast, five cows, shitting the ground back into fertility. In the new chicken coop that Penny built – the nicest coop we’ve ever had, I’ll add – a flock of layers.

The greenhouse. I like the mishmash of grille patterns on the used windows.

Oh, and we have just a couple of spots available for the December 5-6 session of our Teen Earthskills Immersion Program. The pro-rated cost for the weekend is $150; here are more details.

Anyway, for those who have sent notes, thank you. It’s a nice reminder that there are real people reading this stuff.



The Captivity is Now Complete


The heat of last week was almost surreal, sixty-five and clear-skied, the exposed trunks of the leafless trees warming in the sun. Basking. As if they had a choice. Amazing how quickly the leaves fell this year. They came on late, then they were gone, like guests at a dinner party they didn’t really want to attend.

For a time I felt listless and out-of-sorts, thrown off-kilter by the atypical weather. I trudged from task-to-task, shucked down to a tee shirt, thought briefly of trading pants for shorts, but was too lazy to make the change. Now it is cooling again, and I feel the urgency of the season stirring my blood. It is good.

We reside for now in a single room above five cows and 1,000 bales of hay. When the wind blows, I hear the sliding doors of the barn thumping against the side of the building. We have no Internet, no landline, and a cell phone that works only from very particular locations outside our living quarters, so I make calls while leaning against the cows’ paddock fence. I check email every other day or so, sitting in my truck, parked in the parking lot of the nearest library, listening to the radio. Since I seem to be getting less email as I age, I’m thinking I can soon transition to once every third or fourth day and no one will be the wiser. I figure by the time I’m 50, I’ll be down to once a year.

I heard on the radio (while checking email, sitting in my truck, parked in the parking lot of the nearest library) that American teens now spend an average of nine hours each day on electronic devices. Since this does not include school, the true number is certainly a good bit higher. Nine hours a day, plus school… what can possibly remain? The captivity is now complete, and all the more effective for not being recognized as such.

Early this morning I went hunting with my son. We sat for a time on a mossed rock, watching the forest lighten around us.

PS: My friend Jesse just published a book of photographs, chronicling his adventures in the out-of-doors with his daughter, Clover. You can check it out here. Oh yeah: The book includes an essay I wrote.