Hi from the farm. It’s been a while since I wrote and our family has undergone a tremendous change. I’ve been trying to carve out some time to document what is happening, but life has been all consuming. Finally I have a few minutes and I’m determined to start documenting this chapter of our lives.
“What have we done? What are we doing?” I’ve been asking myself these question ever since this crazy plan started to unfold. There have been days when the question only pops up once, and other days when it comes ever few seconds. It’s so stretching to make a big change like this, to leave behind so many good and beautiful things (that look better than ever when you’re leaving) and to step into the unknown. But we’re doing it, and it feels hard, and right. We all feel alive.
For almost two years there has been an opportunity for Jeff to open a Social Finance office in the bay area. We’ve spent countless hours watching the housing market and trying on all kinds of options to get our finances to work within the insane costs of bay area housing. This summer after a visit to California and driving through dozens of neighborhoods scanning for a place that would work we had pretty much decided that staying in Boston was the best option for us. Until, out of the blue, this totally other option opened up to us.
Before I go on, you have to know that Jeff and I are both mid-life. If you’ve been through a mid-life transition (I like that word better than crisis) then our age might help this story make (a little) more sense.
Jeff’s crisis/transition has manifested itself by an intense desire to farm. He started growing a beard and wearing flannel and watching YouTube videos on composting and no-till farming. He felt this pull to work the land like those who went before him, to do physical labor and toughen up our kids.
Mine has been about the kids growing up too quickly and my day to day role as a mother shifting with a end in sight. The day they will start going away to begin their own independent lives seems suddenly closer and more real now that I don’t have any babies. I’m seeing more clearly the fact that’s always been there: childhood is a one shot deal, before I know it their childhood, this thing I want to craft for them so carefully, will be written. While I love the path we’ve been on and the childhood that God has laid before my children thus far, I’ve had this craving to slow down time, to shed things and simplify our obligations so that I can be more present. We’ve hit a little golden sliver of time where all our kids are old enough and eager for adventure and none are too traumatized by the idea of change.
Throughout my life I’ve thrown little wishes out into the universe. A little seed of spiritual creation, sometimes blown into nothing by the wind, sometimes blessed to take root and materialize into a path that has the form of the initial wish. I’ve thrown out wishes to travel with my children, wishes to give them broad experience, wishes to slow down, wishes for adventure. I remember voicing a few times how cool it would be to live on a farm. Not forever, but for long enough to connect with our farming roots, to work hard, to do tough things and to connect with the natural, wild world. When we stopped this summer at the Laura Ingalls Homestead in South Dakota that wish grew a little bigger, and without really even realizing it I threw it out there to the stars on that wild prairie. It seemed to take hold on me, to grow roots as I watched my kids run free through the fields and play with those animals, all four of them beaming with life. I starting thinking that now is really the moment for a family adventure. In a few years Hazel and Charlie will be deep into her own teenage adventures.
So, late this summer, when we discovered that some friends of ours had an unoccupied farm just south of San Francisco the stars were seeming to align and we jumped at the chance to be their temporary caretakers while Jeff opens the west coast office. There are a lot more inner details about how scary it was to make this leap, how heart wrenching and nostalgic it was to close up the Boston chapter of our lives, how much work it was to pack up our house and get it ready for renters, and how miraculous it was that everything lined up, but this post is getting too long, so I’ll have to save those details for another time or another place.
Basically, we packed up our life in Boston and have committed to living here in California for 6 months.
And now, here we are, close to the ocean, on a ranch/farm (the kids like to say a franch), homeschooling, homesteading. We’re living in an old farm house (heated only by a wood burning stove), caring for 30 chicks, two pigs, two barn cats, one Great Pyrenees pup and 147 acres of rolling beauty. We had two sheep, but as of two days ago they were killed by mountain lions. This is certainly an adventure.
I knew when we jumped into this that it would be a challenge, that there would be a lot of surprises. That our beautiful vison of all of us working together, reading together, learning together, exploring together would be peppered with lots of unexpected hard stuff. But I’ve learned time and time again that the unexpected, the hard, the dark and the challenge are what make the whole glisten, that there is beauty in ashes. That without contrast life is flat and memories are one dimensional. I’m ready for the hard. I’m full of hope that we’re going to be glad we took this leap no matter what comes our way. I believe that if I can live in anticipation of the memory, the present will be easier to swallow and the memory of this adventure will be deeper and brighter and more defining.
We’ve been here two weeks and already have had our share of the unexpected. Our dog bites and Em and Peter are pretty terrified to go outside without clinging to me. She’s just a pup and I’m sure she’ll learn, but my vision of them running wild for most of the day, drinking in the fresh air is a little laughable. Instead they’re behind locked doors, or clinging to me, or tucked safe in their kid car that Santa brought them for Christmas. The big kids and I have all been trying to train the pup and the kids to all get along, but it’s hard work. Slowly Em is getting to a place where she’s not shaking in her boots, but poor Peter still finds the need to be up high on fences when he’s not in the house or in his car. We’ll get there.
Then there’s the reality of living in an old run down farm house. We only brought what we could fit in our two cars so we’re going pretty minimalist. We’ve spent a lot of our time accumulating things that we need (thank heavens for my in-laws who live an hour away and have called in all their favors from friends and neighbors to help us get some necessities). Our house is COLD (we came at the coldest time of year) and we’ve spent a lot of time shivering and splitting wood and building fires. While my pyro child Charlie has promised to keep me warm, it’s a lot more work than we anticipated. We’re trying to tell ourselves that it’s work that will warm us twice. We finally have two toilets! But they wobble when you sit and frequently clog.
Homeschool is WAAAY harder than I thought it might be. It’s evolving and getting a little better each day, but we’ve had some major fails and lots of emotions. Since it’s only 6 months and since we believe that the kids are going to learn so much from just living in this alternative way, we’re trying not to make it look too much like traditional school, but still, finding the right structure has been rocky (to put it lightly). More on this later when we’ve figured more out.
And then there is the wild world that we’re confronting. We’ve had record breaking rain and that has created a river over what is supposed to be the bridge leading up to our house, I’ve white knuckled it over that roaring river a few times, thinking heavy thoughts and hoping each time that our car wouldn’t get swept downstream. Then, about a week after we arrived we woke to find that our sheep had been killed by a mountain lion. We tried to herd the other sheep into the barn, but she was terrified out of her mind and wouldn’t be corralled no matter how hard we tried. So she got taken the next night. And on the third night after some torrential rain and hail we woke up to find a huge mudslide that had ripped through the sheep pasture. They were doomed to death it seems. So, we’re learning the harsh and wild realities of the world and that’s putting us a little on edge.
And, of course, all the dirt and mud and mice and ants and spiders. Our water comes right from the creek below the house, so it’s yellow and silty, so we’re never really very clean. We’re just trying to embrace that this is a dirty life, and once we’ve accepted that it seems the grossness of it all isn’t too bothersome. The mice aren’t getting into our food (though we see them and hear them all the time) and Peter is capturing and befriending all the ants he can find.
Aside from feeding the animals and trying to keep them alive (sorry sheep) we are hoping to start a kitchen garden and plant fruit trees in the old orchard. This was one of the things I was most excited about. Room to grow things and a long growing season. But, there are deer and gophers EVERYWHERE so lots of our ideas and plans are going to be much trickier to pull off. It’s hard to even know where to start with these kinds of new obstacles in the way. Especially since we’re such rookies at everything we’re doing. YouTube can only go so far.
I’m trying to blur the reality of all those unexpected challenges and bring into focus all the incredible things about this new life of ours. First, it is absolutely the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived. I do wake up to a freezing nose and a frigid room, but I can see the pink and orange sunrise, burning off the fog that settles in at night. There are deer out on our pasture every morning and we can watch them bound into the green expanse. We have big rolling hills, green as Ireland right now from all the rain. And the pastures are bordered by redwood forests and a rushing river. At night the stars are bright and the heavens are full. We live just a few minutes from the coast and nearly everywhere we go we get to look at the wild ocean. The beach closest to us is full of drift wood and caves and cliffs. Hazel and I let out a little shrill of delight every time we turn onto Rt. One. We pinch ourselves in disbelief that we get to live in such a beautiful spot.